Bill Gates to visit Waterloo for DreamSpark push

Bill Gates will explain to an audience at the University of Waterloo on Thursday why Microsoft Corp. is offering developer tools free to post-secondary students across Canada, a move one analyst describes as a tactic in the war against Java developer tools.

Earlier this week, Gates announced Microsoft’s DreamSpark [LINK] program, which gives students free access to its Visual Studio and Expression Studio tools. To get the tools free of charge, Canadian students need an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), which is issued by the International Student Travel Confederation, to verify their status as students.

“Over time we will add a number of other verification means so students can get access to DreamSpark,” said Daniel Shapiro, Academic Program Manager for Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada Co.

DreamSpark is also available to post-secondary students in the U.S., Britain, Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. By visiting a Web site which verifies their identity as students, they can download both the 2005 and 2008 versions of Visual Studio Professional Edition. Other software packages available for free include XNA Game Studio 2.0, Expression Web, Expression Blend, Expression Design, Expression Media, SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition and Windows Server Standard Edition.

“You’ll see a huge variety of software being built,” Shapiro said. “What we’re hoping to see out of this is students building the next great software company, creating new jobs, developing the skills, so that when they enter the work force in Canada, they’ll be able to grow the industry for us. Part of that is getting trained on Microsoft technology but much more so the fact that they can take their ideas and turn that into reality.”

But DreamSpark is also a way for Microsoft to develop a generation of students who are familiar with Microsoft’s developer tools, encouraging companies to develop applications using the .Net framework instead of other tools, such as Java, said George Goodall, senior research analyst for London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group.

“When you look at the world of enterprise applications right now, it’s really coming down to a two-dog fight,” Goodall said. “It’s really Java Enterprise Edition versus Microsoft’s .Net.”

He added making the tools free for students will increase the number of programmers, database administrators and other IT workers familiar with Microsoft’s .Net development environment.

From ComputerWorld Canada

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“Ultimately, if you control the supply of developers and administrators, guess what? There’s going to be more popularity or more demand for those platforms just because the developers are cheaper.”

Although the tools are available for all users, Microsoft expects demand to be greatest among those studying math, engineering, science and technology. In addition to getting access to the developer tools, students will also get a 12-month membership to the XNA Creators Club. This will allow students to build games for the Vista operating system or for Xbox 360, Shapiro said.

DreamSpark is also one way of dealing with software piracy, Goodall said.

“When you look at people using this, students, et cetera, if they want the tools they’re going to get them in a slightly less than legal type of way,” he said. “So another benefit here for Microsoft is the recognition that there probably is a certain degree of black marketing and pirating going on for these kinds of tools already.”

By encouraging students to use the tools without paying for them, Microsoft is driving demand in the future, Goodall said.

“It might provide an avenue to give the tools away to drive demand among businesses, (which is) basically the audience who can afford to buy these and where enforcement activities actually make sense and where people are susceptible to software audits and software raids.”

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