If you’re involved with a software-related startup business that is less than 3 years old, with less than $1 million in annual sales, then you qualify for special help–lots of free development software and extra Microsoft support–through Microsoft’s BizSpark program.

What you get for that is a package of development software. Here’s a list from the BizSpark site:

  • All the software included in the Microsoft® Visual Studio® Team System Team Suite (VSTS) with MSDN® Premium subscription
  • Expression® Studio Version 2
  • VSTS Team Foundation Server (standard edition)
  • Production use rights to host a “software as a service” solution (developed during participation in the BizSpark Program, on any platform) over the internet, with regard to products including:
    • Microsoft Windows Server® (all versions up to and including Enterprise)
    • Microsoft SQL Server® (all versions)
    • Microsoft Office SharePoint® Portal Server
    • Microsoft System Center
    • Microsoft BizTalk® Server
    • Microsoft Dynamics® CRM (coming soon)
  • In addition to the core program offering, BizSpark startups will be eligible for other Microsoft offerings, such as the Microsoft Azure™ Services Platform

Of course what’s going on here is not a matter of pure generosity; it’s good business for Microsoft. There are open-source alternatives for a lot of this development software, and Microsoft understands that if it gets you early, it’ll probably have you for the long term.

For example, my own company, Palo Alto Software, is a Microsoft-led development team, using .Net and Visual Studio and Silverlight and Windows SQL server and Windows Server. At times we look longingly toward the Linux-based open-source platforms, and lately some of our new projects are based on competing open-source tools; but in the end, we have so much invested, we stick with the platform we know.

Apple computer, for example, practically invented the idea of sewing seeds in the long-term markets with its university programs. Other computer manufacturers followed suit with discounted hardware for developers. The idea is to attract people and companies early, when they are in the early decision stages. Later on they’ll be loyal users.

And there’s certainly nothing at all wrong with it. It’s a good deal on both sides. We certainly use the Microsoft developer programs available to us, and we’re glad to get them.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.