Bill Gates Touts Free Developer Kits for Students – too little, too late?

Megan McCarthy writes Bill Gates Touts Free Developer Kits, Global Progress in Stanford Speech | Epicenter from Wired.com in which she links to the press release from Microsoft:

“Microsoft founder Bill Gates talked about the future of technology and the advent of, as Gates puts it, ‘the second digital decade’ in a talk Tuesday at Stanford University’s Memorial Auditorium. The ex-CEO, who plans to leave day-to-day work at Microsoft this year, also highlighted his company’s  plan to release Microsoft Developer kits free to students, in the hope that they will help make ‘huge breakthroughs’ in technological research using the Microsoft platform.
Not mentioned during the hour-long speech: Yahoo.”

It’s not too late, but it is far, far too little. Wether Microsoft wants to realize it or not, the vast majority of development tools have been completely commoditized. Apple gives away an incredible tool chain for developing on the Macintosh, the Linux tool chain has been free for years, Eclipse is continuing to put the hurt on other IDE’s in the java development space, and even specific components of the java development process (what I’ll consider the long standout of pay-for tools) are under threat by open source alternatives. It’s another market place that is getting commoditized by open source, and it’s one that developers know extremely well. It is finally that rare domain where developers are both the generators and consumers of their product.

Presumably Microsoft is opening up it’s development world to students for that time honored tradition of getting the poor SOB’s hooked on their kool-aid. And let me say here – it’s actually pretty good kool-aid. I have a lot of respect for the work that Microsoft has done with their tool chain and Visual Studio in particular. Sometimes I’m confused by the too-many options in just choosing what the hell to install, and I think there are flaws with what they’re doing other than that – but it’s a very effective environment if you’re sticking entirely to the Win32/Win64 development world.

What they need to do it just open the whole thing up to everyone. No “student” caveat, just open it. They’ve already started this process with their “express edition” of the tool set, they just need to finish it. Either that, or break up the pieces that they consider as “adding value” with the bizarre editions thing they have going and let people purchase and add on in pieces that are well defined and clear.

There are some load testing tools, for example, in the Tester edition of Visual Studio that aren’t available in the Architects edition. (How’s that for indicative of what’s fucked up with Microsoft’s development process?) Those load/performance testing tools are really quite good – assuming that you are load or performance testing Win32 based apps. If you’re doing ASP.NET stuff or ISAPI plugins to IIS, for example, they rock. If you’re testing on other platforms, they still pretty decent. So that is a piece where you can see some clear value. There is open source in that area, but they’re ahead of the game in the niche of Win platforms and integration with the development environment. That component could easily be a clear win.

The dark secret of all this is that most development organizations that I’m aware of just throw up their hands and purchase into MSDN to get these tools. I can’t even imagine how the accountants in Microsoft deal with the money back side of this. It may be that the develop tools are already considered loss leaders inside the big house and they’re not giving them away to keep up revenue through MSDN. Then again, don’t you think that the MSDN value should stand on it’s own? Come on Microsoft – just give away the tools and get on with program…

(Via Epicenter from Wired.com.)

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