Microsoft has revamped its DreamSpark program that gives students free versions of software including Visual Studio, Expression Studio and Kudo Game Studio.
The program was originally announced by Bill Gates in 2008, and since then has been rolling quietly along, gaining some exposure in the context of the Imagine Cup and other student initiatives. It is a worldwide program and its website offers twelve languages.
Until recently there were two streams, DreamSpark and MSDN Academic Alliance (MSDNAA). You could sign up to DreamSpark as an individual student or as an academic institution, and download for free Windows Server, SQL Server, and the development environments.
In addition to Visual Studio, participants in DreamSpark can also use XNA Game Studio 4, Robotics Developer Studio and Pluralsight OnDemand training access for 90 days.
Students can sign up for DreamSpark using ISIC cards or .edu email addresses, and once accepted remain verified for 12 months.
What’s changed is that MSDNAA has now been renamed as DreamSpark Premium where the academic organization pays an annual fee to give students and departments access to Windows Client, the higher-level versions of Visual Studio, Project, Visio, Biztalk and SharePoint.
The cost of this has been reduced to $499, which covers educators and students for personal non-commercial usage and all lab installations, and the licenses are not time-limited.
DreamSpark also gives free membership of AppHub, so that Windows Phone applications and independent X-Box games can be put onto the marketplace at no cost.
When DreamSpark was first announced, it received a somewhat cynical reception along the lines of this being Microsoft aiming to get young developers hooked on Visual Studio in the hope they’d stay in the Microsoft camp rather than choosing the open source alternatives.
While this view has some merit, this is what motivates all educational promotions, the fact remains - if you sign up with a recognised academic institution (and it can be as a graduate student), you can download and use Microsoft’s development software for free - which has to be better than having to pay for it.