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Microsoft offers startups free development tools, MSDN subscription

BizSpark gives new ISVs free development tools, including full versions of Visual Studio and an MSDN Premium subscription.. The company hopes the program will encourage startups to develop for Windows without having to worry about up-front costs.

A new Microsoft program is giving out full versions of the company's development tools to startups making less than $1 million, the company announced earlier this month.

BizSpark Highlights
  • Available to new startup ISVs
  • Free development tools like Visual Studio Team System; MDSN Premium subscription; unlimited server licenses
  • More comprehensive version of Empower, an existing Microsoft program for startups
Under BizSpark, startups will get a full range of development tools and software, including Visual Studio Team System, an MSDN Premium subscription and unlimited licenses of Microsoft's servers, including Windows Server, SQL Server, BizTalk and SharePoint. To qualify, companies must be privately owned, make less than $1 million annually and have been in business for less than three years.

Companies can use their servers for internal testing as well as hosting software as a service (SaaS), and there is no limitation on selling traditional client-server software built on tools acquired through BizSpark, said Don Dodge, director of business development at Microsoft's emerging business team. The program also connects SaaS startups with hosting partners that can host the startup's software for free for the duration of its BizSpark membership.

There is no up-front cost to joining the program, but companies have to pay a $100 program fee when they leave the program -- and purchase whatever products they still want to use. Startups that have already purchased Microsoft tools can get additional licenses through BizSpark as long as they are eligible for the program, Dodge said.

Microsoft is open about its motivation for BizSpark: the company knows that its success is largely dependent on new developers writing for its platforms, and it's seeking to encourage them by lowering the cost of entry, Dodge said.

In fact, BizSpark isn't an entirely new idea, he said. The company has been running a similar program, Empower, for years. But startups had to contact Microsoft directly to enroll in Empower, while BizSpark relies on Network Partners -- venture capitalists and similar firms -- for recruitment. Although documents on the program's website say startups have to sign up for BizSpark through a Network Partner, Dodge said they can also enroll directly through internal Microsoft employees, designated as BizSpark Champs.

Dodge said the impetus for BizSpark isn't increased competition from open source tools, although he acknowledged that "the trend is clear," and he said BizSpark fits within it. As of Monday, the program had signed up 1743 startups and 548 Network Partners, Dodge said. BizSpark was launched Nov. 6.

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