Microsoft to give students free developer tools

microsoftMicrosoft wants more students using its software tools and it thinks it has hit on the right business model.

It’s going to give away its software.

Starting this week, college students in 10 countries will be able to get Microsoft’s Visual Studio and several other programs for free as part of an effort dubbed DreamSpark. Over the next year, Microsoft plans to offer the program worldwide for college and high school students.

In addition to giving away its Visual Studio tools, Microsoft is also providing no-charge access to its Expression Web design tools and its XNA studio for developing Xbox 360 software. Microsoft already provides discounted academic versions of its software, as well as a free “express” version of Visual Studio. Students can also get free copies of Windows Server and the developer version of the SQL Server database.

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“You can go build software applications,” said Joe Wilson, Microsoft’s senior director of academic initiatives. “You can go build Web sites. You can do a really cool Facebook application…There are a lot of possibilities that comes with this small list of products.

Included in those initial 10 countries are the United States, the United Kingdom, China, France, and Germany.

Clearly, Microsoft has a couple of goals here. One is to get more students who have enough design or science aptitude to enter the software field. The other is to get them using Microsoft’s tools early.

“That next generation and future generations of technologists, they are vital to any industry leader like us,” Wilson said. Wilson said his goal is to be able five years from now to spot businesses that got their start because a student used Microsoft’s tools for free.

“I expect that to happen,” Wilson said. “Maybe it’s hundreds or thousands of companies.”

Bill Gates is set to discuss DreamSpark Tuesday in a speech to students at Stanford University.