Microsoft announced this week it will provide to new software startup companies nearly free access to Microsoft software and development tools. Technology offered to eligible early-stage startups via its BizSpark program includes the following:

  1. Development and testing: Visual Studio Team System Team Suite (VSTS) with MSDN Premium, plus VSTS Team Foundation Server Standard Edition.
  2. Deployment /hosting/management of the startup's Software as a Service app: Windows Server, Microsoft SQL Server, BizTalk Server, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, and Systems Center.

For eligible startups, the BizSpark program requires no costs up front. Eligible startups are those that have been in business for less than three years, are earning less than $1 million in annual revenue, are privately held, and are developing a software-based product or service.

After a startup leaves the program (either after three years or prior to that, if its eligibility changes), it pays a $100 "Program Offering fee" and is able to keep the perpetual licenses for all the development and design tools. The startup can continue to receive updates to the tools and the development platform via an MSDN subscription and continue using the production licenses by joining one of Microsoft's licensing programs.

The BizSpark program exposes start-up companies to Microsoft products during the early years of a startup's life—when money for software and support is scarce—and offers the new companies visibility in the technology world while also encouraging them to keep Microsoft platforms in mind when developing software. To begin, a company joins a Microsoft Network Partner or Hosting Partner; Microsoft offers assistance finding a partner, if needed. To learn more about eligibility, benefits, and conditions, go to http://microsoft.com/BizSpark.