Wednesday, February 20, 2008

DreamSpark - free Microsoft software for students

Yesterday Microsoft announced the new DreamSpark program, which promises to provide free software to up to 1 billion college and high school students worldwide. It's currently available to over 35 million students in the US, Europe and Asia, and will be expanding rapidly. And it It includes not only the software, but classroom curriculum to go along with it.

I'm not mentioning this because I'm an alarmist and think this is the end of civilization. It's an incredible investment that goes a step beyond the old academic licensing. I paid my own way through college and having to spend even more money on software made it much more difficult. I would have welcomed a program like this, and I applaud Microsoft for stepping up to the plate.

Here's an excerpt of what Bill Gates says about DreamSpark in a video interview on channel8:
I've always believed in getting developers at as young an age as possible. These are the tools that people can build a career around or they can just build fun software for themselves. The basics of understanding how good architecture works, the data structures ... those have been the same for the last 30 years. Fundamentally, the skills of design, of knowing what good code looks like -- that is going to be valuable for at least the next three decades.

Regardless of what your personal opinion is, the man has a point. My first development language was Apple BASIC, and I still use BASIC-like languages in Microsoft Access, Visual Basic, and Lotus Notes. Apple got me hooked at an early age and now I'm loathe to step away from my comfort zone.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, and whether there is a sharp uptick in the number of Microsoft-oriented developers in the next few years.

via Computerworld


  1. Yeah, that's just nice. Thank you so much Bill.

    Now, it would be great if they used some of the software assurance money to actually further develop and improve the products their customers are pay for, instead of using it all to bribe college students into thinking the software is worth paying for.
    Or do you actually think that he gives a damn about what people need to build a career on. I mean they're pissing on their clients, the only reason they care about college students is because they need someone to piss on in a few years.

    If there was any altruism about this they would be giving these tools to developing countries not to the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, China, Germany, France, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Belgium.

  2. "It's an incredible investment that goes a step beyond the old academic licensing."

    What investment? Software has zero marginal cost. This doesn't cost Microsoft a dime. They didn't invest anything.

    "Apple got me hooked at an early age and now I'm loathe to step away from my comfort zone."

    wait... this from the guy that said...

    "If it weren't for all the people in the blogosphere using Mac's I'd be blissfully unaware they even exist."


  3. I been saying for years that the best way to build a market for your products is to expose school kids (college, high school and even younger) to your products.
    This is exactly why so many CEO-type people want MS in their environment... They have been exposed to Word, Excel and Outlook (Express) for years and years. They feel comfortable with the Microsoft look, and don't care about the backend. They want a familiar look. That is why they perceive Notes as ugly/non-standard.
    Give away Notes/Domino to students, let them play with it, learn to use it, program, and there will be a new generation of Notes developers and enthusiasts in a few years.

    Personal example: I started working as a journalist at a computer magazine in 1993. Everyone used Word Perfect 5.x for DOS. I was used to Microsoft Word for Windows (I think it was 2.0 then). I used it, some people switched over, I built some helpful templates and macros that let the user do more WYSIWYG editing instead of entering Quark Xpress codes in just plan text. Within a year, it was mandated that everyone use Word...
    In that case, it was the added business value, but I am sure I could have written the same things in WP if that would been my preferred tool.

  4. Vitor, you're obviously passionate about this subject, but I think you're dismissing Microsoft a little too quickly. Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008 are some pretty impressive tools. Have you used them? :-)

    The other side of the DreamSpark effort is that Microsoft is helping developing nations build the infrastructure necessary to properly authorize their students. Of course they started with the countries that have that in place, but there is an active commitment to helping other countries catch up. They anticipate extending DreamSpark to cover over 1 billion students worldwide.

    @Nate - Prior to DreamSpark you had to pay for academic software so it brought some amount of revenue in. Granted it was probably abused more than it was used legitimately, but it was still a revenue source, no matter how small.

    I was being humorously broad with the statement about Apple. Or I thought I was anyway. Of course I know Mac's exist; I just have never used a Mac and have absolutely no interest in them.

    What I meant was I used Apple BASIC and that got me hooked on BASIC as a language of choice. I also switched from Apple BASIC to Microsoft BASIC when I left high school and the university I attended only had PC labs.

  5. The part about Apple was just me teasing you, man. :-)

    For the record, Gates actually pitched giving away the software for educational purposes something like 10 years ago. He proposed that once the internet was ubiquitous, there was zero marginal cost to distributing software, so for non-commercial applications there was simply no reason not to give it away. I remember vividly sitting in my living room reading the interview in Newsweek where he said that and thinking "holy CRAP!"

  6. Charles, I'm sorry if that came out to loud.

    I hope passionate doesn't mean unreasonable.

    I didn't dismiss anything, let me refrase that:
    "to bribe college students into thinking the software is worth paying *assurance* for."

    Yes I do use VS08, as to SQL I haven't been able to make it run on i5/OS, z/OS or any other half decent and scalable OS. But I'm sure that's just because the DreamSpark program wasn't available while I was in college and therefore I couldn't use the tools and build a career for myself. :-)

    Oh C'mon! They started with the countries whose students will stand a bigger chance of being tomorrow's enterprise leaders.

    This is plain simple, if they (or anyone else) build good tools people and companies will buy them. No need to replace teachers with evangelizers.

  7. Drug Dealers do this I'm told -
    i.e. they hang around outside the school gates giving away 'free' samples then reap the 'rewards' further down the line.
    MS have made a commercial decision here not a philanthropic one. On balance to be (guardedly) applauded

  8. "Drug Dealers do this I'm told -
    i.e. they hang around outside the school gates giving away 'free' samples then reap the 'rewards' further down the line."

    Y'know, I keep trying to find these mysterious people who will give me free drugs, and I never can. :-(

  9. Nate, context in a written medium is so hard to discern. Thanks for the explanation. :-)

    Vitor, I'm still not following you. Not everyone who buys Microsoft software also buys Assurance. That's a completely separate business decision. At my day job we're 100% Microsoft but decided Software Assurance wasn't worth the money. I do feel that Microsoft's software is worth paying for. It's something you and I you will have to disagree on. :-)

    It could be that the countries currently participating in DreamSpark were chosen because they have the potential to benefit Microsoft most, or it could be because they were the easiest for Microsoft to start with since the infrastructure was in place. I understand your point, but there are other logical explanations that don't require Microsoft to be acting in pure self-interest. :-)

    @LongLiveLotus - Who else do you see stepping up to offer free technology to developing countries? Sure there is economic incentive for Microsoft, but I don't see any other company doing it. You see it as golden handcuffs, many students see it as opening a world of opportunity. Again, it's a matter of perception and which side of the equation you're on.

    Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world." Well, Microsoft just stepped their game up to define what that change is. The question is what are their competitors going to do about it?