Microsoft Corp. is giving students free access to its most sophisticated tools for writing software and making media-rich Web sites, a move that intensifies its competition with Adobe Systems Inc. and could challenge open source software's popularity.
The Redmond-based software maker said on Monday it will let students download Visual Studio Professional Edition, a software development environment; Expression Studio, which includes graphic design and Web site and hybrid Web-desktop programming tools; and XNA Game Studio 2.0, a video game development program.
The company will also give away SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition and Windows Server Standard Edition.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said the company's past efforts to arrange educational discounts for these programs limited the number of students who ultimately could use them. DreamSpark, as Microsoft is calling the free software offering, opens up access to many more students.
It's also good for Microsoft's business, Gates added.
"We give up some revenue, but we gain the fact that we'll get the feedback of these students, get more courses to incorporate our tools into the programs and get more startups where kids are familiar with Visual Studio, Expression Studio and SQL Server," Gates said in a phone interview.
The program, which Microsoft says will put its software and Web development tools in the hands of 1 billion students, gives momentum to an attack Microsoft launched on Adobe Systems Inc. last year with the release of Expression Studio and Silverlight, its answer to Adobe's market-leading Photoshop and Illustrator design programs and Flash, the technology behind much of the video and animation on Web pages.
"It's a brilliant strategic move on the part of Microsoft," said Chris Swenson, a software industry analyst with NPD Group. "This is one of the core audiences you have to hit if you really want to make a difference in the rich Internet application market going forward."
DreamSpark could also win a generation of programmers away from open source software, which companies from small startups to Google Inc. use as an affordable, flexible alternative to software from the likes of Microsoft and database maker Oracle Inc.