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Microsoft Launches 'Spark' Program for Web Developer and Server Products

Microsoft kicked off another "Spark' program today to seed the development audience for its Web tools and platforms. The global program lowers the barrier to entry for Web professionals and smaller companies, and allows Microsoft to compete with open source software.

The WebsiteSpark program, which follows DreamSpark for full-time students and BizSpark for software startups, offers free licenses for tools and server applications, along with technical and marketing support from Microsoft and its partner network. Microsoft has signed up more than 50 hosting partners that can also provide software "on parity with the price of Linux," says Lauren Cooney, a group product manager on the Developer Platform & Tools team at Microsoft.

WebsiteSpark targets both Web developers and designers, who work in companies of 10 people or less. Microsoft has been working on the program for about six months, with research and feedback from 200 Web companies, according to Cooney.

"We found out that a lot of Web development companies out there were hybrid shops in Windows and Linux," she says. "And they were frustrated with Linux specifically, although there is that price point that is relatively low, they could not get enough information on the Web or the information was very fragmented. They would be looking for code samples, and the code wasn't right, quite frankly.

"And one of the things that we do with WebsiteSpark," Cooney says, "is we are actually offering up full licenses as well as production licenses. We are breaking down the cost barrier so our software is now free and you get the trusted resources, and the trusted support and the trusted training."

Like BizSpark, in order to qualify, interested participants need a sponsorship from a Microsoft chair or a member of the WebsiteSpark partner network. To be eligible, companies must develop Web solutions--in any technology. Developers can find potential sponsors by contacting websitespark@microsoft.com

Qualified companies will receive three full licenses for Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, two licenses for Expression Web and one license for Expression Studio 3, which includes the Expression Blend design software and SketchFlow. WebsiteSpark participants will also receive two production licenses for Windows Web Server 2008 or R2 when available, SQL Server 2008 Web Edition and third-party DotNetPanel to manage their sites. Technology licenses will not be updated as newer versions of the tools and applications are released, according to Microsoft.

Participants also qualify for two Microsoft technical support incidents and access to MSDN technical newsgroups. A Microsoft partner recruiting portal is designed to put WebsiteSpark participants in touch with a wider ecosystem that includes design, development and technical support firms such as Aruba Networks, Inc., Bitrix Inc., Elance Inc., Ikoula, PEER 1 Network Enterprises Inc. and Strato.

BizSpark, which was launched in November 2008 in 82 countries, has more than 15,000 startups in the program, including Red Beacon Inc., the winner of the TechCrunch 50.

Like BizSpark, companies, if still eligible, can participant in WebsiteSpark for up to three years. The only cost is a $100 fee, which can be paid upon exiting the program. After the three-year period, developers will have to pay for production licenses and support as needed.

A major incentive in the current economic climate, the program includes the opportunity to participate in a WebsiteSpark marketplace, promoted by Microsoft, which showcases the products and services of participants.

"One of the things that we recognize--and we have been doing a lot of work on the Web platform as well--is that it is really about helping companies build their business, get customers and make money, whatever size they are," says Cooney.

Microsoft also released the Web Platform Installer 2.0 today, a free download tool that provides easier access to the company's Web products: Windows Server/IIS, SQL Server, ASP.NET, ASP.NET MVC, Visual Web Developer, Silverlight and ASP.NET AJAX. The updated installer adds support for the Windows Azure SDK, IIS Media Services and a free Expression Studio trial. "As a user, you can pick and chose what you want, these are not forced installs," says Cooney. Improved package handling in Web PI 2.0 offers the ability to download once, package and repackage components as needed, and deploy them on multiple systems.

With Web PI, developers can also download apps from the Windows Web Application Gallery, which includes free .NET and PHP applications such as DotNetNuke, SugarCRM, WordPress, among others. The Windows Web Application Gallery 2.0, announced today, adds 20 applications.

"We have had over 3 million products downloaded through the Web PI and we have almost over 700,000 applications downloaded," says Cooney. "It is extremely critical to understand that developers' time is very, very valuable and we recognize that and we want to make sure that we are building products and building installation processes to deliver on what they need."

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About the Author

Kathleen Richards is the editor of RedDevNews.com and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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