"We want to do everything we can to equip a new generation of technology leaders with the knowledge and tools they need to harness the magic of software to improve lives, solve problems, and catalyze economic growth," Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said in a statement.
It's not all altruistic, of course. Microsoft hopes that by giving students software for free, the students will be more likely to purchase the paid versions later.
DreamSpark includes Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition, Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, Expression Studio, XNA Game Studio 2.0 with a free yearlong subscription to the XNA Creators Club, SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition and Windows Server 2003 R2 Standard Edition. When Windows Server 2008 is released to MSDN, it will be available to students as well.
In the beginning, DreamSpark will provide college students in 10 countries access to all this software, and Microsoft hopes to expand the program worldwide and to high school students by the end of 2008. Students will log into a site on Microsoft's Channel 8 student-oriented Web site to get access.
The software will be available under an educational license, meaning that it isn't licensed to use for business. However, it won't stop working when students leave their institutions, and Joe Wilson, Microsoft's senior director of academic initiatives for developer and platform evangelism, said in an interview he hopes students will use the software as a way to get their business careers started.
"If we have a thousand more ISVs or new startups, I think that's a great outcome for this program," Wilson said. "Students are on the honor system. Overall, students are going to go do what the best thing for them is at that point; we don't sit around worrying about that."
It could be challenging for Microsoft to verify identities, but the company has a verification system in place to make sure students are students and not professional developers. It uses public and private sources of information to verify identities, including a database run by academic software company JourneyEd in the United States and other educational information networks in China and Europe.
That's not to say nonstudents won't fall through the cracks. "There's no magic button to instantly verify students," says Wilson.
Microsoft's effort follows that of Adobe, which began giving away a free version of its Flex Builder development software to students in November.