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Michael Desmond, founding editor of Redmond Developer News and Desmond File blogger, is on vacation. Filling in for him today is Kathleen Richards, senior editor of RDN. You can reach her at [email protected].

Capturing the hearts and minds of today's youth, as Apple Inc. has so aptly discovered, can literally make your brand sing.

Microsoft also wants the youth vote. On Monday, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates started his college tour by stumping at Stanford University, of all places -- the alma mater of his nemeses, the Google guys. During his talk, Gates announced a new Microsoft program aimed at giving free professional dev tools to college students. The idea is to spark innovation and prepare students for a future in the IT workforce. Called Microsoft DreamSpark, the program is launching this week in 11 countries: Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S.

Students at accredited colleges and universities can use their Windows Live ID to log in to the DreamSpark site, verify their student status and download free copies of Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition, Expression Studio, XNA 2.0 Game Studio, Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition and SQL Server 2005. Each tool is available with a single license, free of charge for non-commercial use. The program is expected to include high school students later this year.

So what's the catch, you ask? And why aren't Eastern Europe, India or Japan on that list? Microsoft has a plan in place to make DreamSpark a global reality in the next year or so (although India isn't among its targets to date). To make this happen, the company is working with academic institutions, government agencies and educational organizations around the world.

As for the catch... The educational providers serve as verification sources of a student's digital ID and current enrollment status. Microsoft says that it's not requiring schools to provide any personal information about students. Students will, however, be required to download Silverlight "to give you the best possible user experience," according to the MSDN DreamSpark Web site. Right!

If this sounds too good be true, we'll have to wait and see. Free developer tools are already out there for the taking from, Google and elsewhere. What could be wrong with having access to free developer, designer and gamer tools? As one Channel 8 poster proclaimed, "Yahoo!!!" --Kathleen Richards

Posted on 02/21/2008

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