Ask most people what the best thing about Open Source is, and they'll tell you one of two things:
1. It's not Microsoft, or
2. It's free
We've all heard the Cost of Ownership arguments and know that being free to use is not necessarily free to operate, but that's not really an issue for people like, um, students.
I think this is a great idea. In fact, always have. When I was at uni (back in the dark ages – I graduated in '94 :-) the main player in student developer tools was Borland. Why? Because they were dirt cheap. They lead the way with the whole academic pricing model that is now used by Microsoft, Adobe and others. I remember buying the full, enterprise, everything, all-you-can-eat, version of Borland C++ for something like a hundred bucks (retail was in the thousands) simply because I was a student. In fact I wrote my whole thesis in it (ahhh pointers, how I miss you not…).
Everyone in my course was using Borland and we were all hooked. And remember that Software Engineering as a degree was pretty new** in those days (I commenced my degree in '89 and it had only been going for a few years prior to that I think). Anyway enough of the boring history, my point is this. Borland owned that generation of software engineer. Microsoft were quick to catch on and a few years after I finished, Microsoft Visual C++ had taken the top spot.
Microsoft's recent decision to make their tools free to developers is a simple evolution of this. 15 years ago they were competing with Borland and cheap pricing. These days they are competing with Open Source and zero pricing.
So this is not a clever move, nor even a surprising move. It is a necessary move to ensure they can still have some hold on the crucial student generation – and thus tomorrow's IT generation. It'll be interesting to see how many of these licenses are claimed, and to compare that to usage of the Express range. My guess is that students are gonna flock to this like ants to a sugar bowl.
The only bad part – it won't be available in Australia for a little while (since there is no verification system in place – as Long Zheng points out).
* btw I think DreamSpark is a dumb name.
** Note: I should clarify that Software Engineering is different to Computer Science – at least it was when & where I was going through. Software Engineering was new and came out of the Electrical Engineering faculty – and was a 6 year degree. Computer Science, which had been around for ages, was a 3 or 4 year degree (depending on electives). Interestingly, Software Engineering went down the DOS and Windows path, where as Comp Sci had a lot more Unix.