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VC++ Novice: DreamSpark for Students

Bill Gates talks about Free Software, Students, and Technology

Yesterday, Bill Gates spoke about the DreamSpark program to put Microsoft's professional developer tools into the hands of students at no charge.  There is an exciting list of available tools, including Visual Studio 2008 Professional and the complete Expression Studio.

The initiative is now available in eleven countries around the world.  Within those countries, you must be a student at one of the recognized institutions or other recognized student organization.  Your student status will be verified with the appropriate organization, and it must be reviewed every 12 months.

The program will rapidly expand to more educational institutions and countries.  For now, students must be enrolled in a recognized post-secondary (after high-school) program.  The program will be extended to high-school students at a later time.

DreamSpark software is downloaded directly by the students, rather having to be obtained through academic departments and campus book stores.  This should make the packages more-consistently available.

There are some restrictions.  I also have some concerns.


First, the software is only available for academic use.  From the FAQ for Students:

"We’re giving you the software for non-commercial use to support and advance your learning and skills through technical design, technology, math, science and engineering activities."

Secondly, the software is only available to use so long as student status is maintained.  From the FAQ for Administrators:

"This benefit is available to all tertiary (post-secondary) students around the world who are attending accredited schools or universities. However, this program requires all students to have their status verified by an authorized verification source."

Not being a verifiable student, I am unable to look at the complete license and explore the download process.  You will need to find broadband access and be able to download and record CD-ROM and DVD-ROM images.  You should also explore any restrictions on redistribution and on distribution of software that you produce. 


If the DreamSpark idea appeals to you and you are a qualified student, remember that these products are designed for professionals.  There is no provision of tutorials or introductory materials for learning how to use the various programming languages and other resources.  You will need to invest in separate books and resources beginning with these tools.

It may also be difficult to find a community of other students and beginners who are also learning to work with these tools. 

I suspect that there will be more material and more community as time goes on. 

If you are a beginner and are not taking courses or using books you already have for the fundamentals, I recommend that you look at one of the Express Editions and use that to calibrate whether you are prepared to take on the additional features and capabilities of the professional tools without considerable assistance.  This is also a good place to start until you are prepared to declare yourself to be an advanced student.

I don't want to discourage you; this is a great offer.  But you should qualify your expectations.  Mastery of these tools is not something that happens overnight or even in a single university term.  If you want to use these tools for self-directed learning separate from your course work, it is even more important for you to understand the investment of personal time that will be needed.

My recommendation: Go for Expression Studio and Windows Live.  Use the Express Editions for everything else until you are prepared to step up to Visual Studio 2008 Professional.

What Others Are Saying

As a side matter, it is interesting that Shibboleth and Information Card (they say Cardspace) Identity Providers are supported in the verifying institutions.

[update 2008-02-20: Alfred Thompson's post adds information beyond the basic "hooray" posts and I linked to it.  I stick by my recommendation, especially for those who want to learn non-.NET fundamentals.]

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