Microsoft announced this week that it will give students free access to some of its most expensive products in a bid to challenge the rise in popularity of open source solutions. Via a program called Microsoft DreamSpark, the company will allow millions of students around the world to download such developer-oriented products as Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, Expression Studio, and XNA Game Studio 2.0, for free. It will also provide students with free versions of SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition and Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition.

"We want to do everything we can to equip a new generation of technology leaders with the knowledge and tools they need to harness the magic of software to improve lives, solve problems and catalyze economic growth," said Microsoft chairman Bill Gates. "Microsoft DreamSpark provides professional-level tools that we hope will inspire students to explore the power of software and encourage them to forge the next wave of software-driven breakthroughs."

Microsoft DreamSpark is aimed at high school- and college-level students whose studies involve, in some way, technology, design, math, science, or engineering. It's currently available to over 35 million college students in Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US, and Microsoft says it will "broadly" expand the program around the globe and could ultimately reach 1 billion students.

For more information about Microsoft DreamSpark, please visit Microsoft's Channel 8 Web site.
http://channel8.msdn.com/