Microsoft plans to arm students with the company’s developer and design tools for free to help them fulfill their creative goals now and to help seed the market for developers working on the Microsoft platform in the future.
In a speech scheduled for Feb. 19 at Stanford University, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is expected to formally launch the effort known as the Microsoft DreamSpark student program. The DreamSpark program makes available, at no charge, a broad range of development and design software for download. The program is now available to more than 35 million college students in Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Joe Wilson, senior director of Academic Initiatives for Developer and Platform Evangelism at Microsoft, said, “The software is one of the greatest currencies we have that we can give to students. We’ll make any pro-level designer and development tools available to university students now and to high school students in the fall. We hope it will make a big difference with students in school and also be a head start for their careers.”
The DreamSpark program includes free access to Microsoft development tools including Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition, Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, XNA Game Studio 2.0, and a 12-month free academic membership in the XNA Creators Club. The designer tools covered by the program include the Expression Studio, which consists of Expression Web, Expression Blend, Expression Design, and Expression Media. Microsoft also is providing students free licenses to SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition and Windows Server, Standard Edition, as part of the program, Wilson said.
Some observers said they view the program as another Microsoft initiative to not only draw more developers to the Microsoft platform, but to catch them while they are young and before they might become entrenched in Java or open-source tools.
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Inc., said, “Every vendor understands that keeping a computing platform healthy and up to date requires regular infusions of new blood, i.e., programmers and developers. By proactively offerings students free access to development tools and software, Microsoft aims to help create fresh interest in and future development on Windows platforms. The main challenge will be in how they decide to measure the program’s success. Will it be in the sheer number of student downloads or will they try to track events like new product/tool developments arising from those downloads? The latter approach offers more tangible benefits.”
Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst at the Enderle Group, said the program “should help to get students interested in software and programming. Also, given that people don’t like to retrain, this will be the seeds for a new generation of programmers who drive the Microsoft platforms into the private and public sectors. Without efforts like this Microsoft’s long-term future is less certain.”
Experiment and Challenge
Meanwhile, Wilson said Microsoft is not only hoping to reach computer science and engineering students with the DreamSpark program, but students in any discipline where software is prevalent.
“The numbers of students going into IT in developed countries is declining, but the use of IT skills is increasing in other disciplines,” Wilson said.
Joe Schulman, a senior computer science student at the University of Nebraska — Lincoln, said he believes DreamSpark is “a great idea. I believe learning as many platforms as possible helps students be more marketable for jobs and successful in their careers. In fact, I can trace my future employment back to getting access to MSDNAA [Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance]. Each platform has advantages and disadvantages, but until now many non-IT students simply did not have access to the Microsoft platform.”
Schulman said he sees three types of scenarios that can be “unlocked immediately” by the DreamSpark program: the programming hobbyist student, the non-IT student doing research and the “presentation guru,” who can benefit from the Expression suite.
“The .NET platform is relatively easy to learn with very rich libraries,” Schulman said. “The Expression Studio is a huge leap over Paint and competitive with Photoshop. Easy access to each with school-age enthusiasm I believe will spawn great projects.”
Moreover, Schulman said that various departments including the business school at the University of Nebraska calls for students to give several presentations. “Expression Studio enables them to create more engaging presentations with better graphics and design,” Schulman said. I think a lot of people want to try out graphic design, and prior to this announcement, there were no free professional tools available.”
Meanwhile, Enderle added that a result of the program could also be better software from Microsoft.
“This will also result in different and hopefully better products over time as young people are more willing to experiment and challenge than their more mature counterparts which should add, as more come into the fold, a more dynamic aspect to Microsoft’s offerings,” Enderle said.