Microsoft BizSpark, Action Pack and Empower programs


I’m always intrigued when some development companies claim they can’t afford to pay the software licenses for the tools they use. That is, after agreeing to pay salaries, rent, office fit-outs, hardware and other expenses they somehow can’t stump up the cash for operating system licenses and proper developer tools. The usual recourse is to either ‘bend the rules of licensing’ or pursue an open source path. Now, I’m not saying software is cheap, but I am saying that it a much smaller proportion than wages and rent and thus shouldn’t be a major hurdle.

But, regardless of what I think, it happens all the time. Microsoft is losing many to the open source community, and coupled with the economic panic going on they’ve been forced to re-consider the situation. After donning the thinking caps here’s the result: a nice set of streamlined programs for helping the established and not-so-established companies. This is a good thing.

Following is a list of the various initiatives that Microsoft is running, some are new, some have been around for a while. There’s basically two umbrella programs, the new BizSpark initiative, and the older Partner program streams.

(Note: I’m basing the following on Australian options, other countries may differ).


Microsoft BizSpark

BizSpark is the newest program, and is especially created for startups. To qualify, you need to be privately held, in business for less than 3 years, and earning less than US $1M in revenue.

It’s easy to Join (you just need to find a BizSpark partner) and you get everything you’d ever need in terms of tools including Visual Studio Team Suite, MSDN Premium (includes all the Office suite), operating systems, MOSS, SQL Server, BizTalk, Dynamics CRM, the list goes on.

Oh, and it’s free. Let it never be said that Microsoft licensing costs are a hurdle for new companies!

Join Microsoft BizSpark

Whilst you’re on the BizSpark site (part of the Microsoft Startup Zone) make sure you check out the resources page and various links. I can’t remember how, but one of the links took me to the PhizzPop Online Design Challenge – very cool.


Microsoft Partner Programs

Microsoft Partner program

The partner program has been running for decades now, but can be confusing. In fact I’ve mainly written this post as a simple summary for myself to refer back to in the future. There’s a whole site with all the details of course, but here’s a run down of the main Partner options:

  • Registered Partner (which includes the Empower program and the Action Pack subscriptions)
  • Certified Partner
  • Gold Certified Partner


Microsoft Action Pack (Microsoft Registered Partner)

The Action Pack program has a few variations, but all essentially give you access to a range of operating system, server and office tools for internal use, for a modest price (currently AU $699 in Australia).

They also have Special editions which include a few extras:

  • Special Edition Web Solutions Toolkit – which also includes Expression Studio and Visual Studio 2008
  • Small Business Specialist Community Special Edition Toolkit – which includes special SBS and server training resources 

The Action Pack subscription is ideal for companies that sell, service or build solutions on Microsoft technologies. There’s no real qualifying criteria other than an online course for the Special editions. There’s also an annual assessment to ensure you are sticking to the terms of the program.


Microsoft Empower (Microsoft Registered Partner)

The Microsoft Empower program is targeted at ISVs and is a two year program (costing AU $899 per year). It includes an MSDN Premium Subscription (Office, Servers, Vista etc) and five Visual Studio 2008 Professional licenses.

There’s a few requirements to qualify (eg you need to be developing a re-saleable custom application – it’s not for internal use only) and it only runs for two years (after that you need to upgrade to one of the Certified Partner programs below).

The Empower program is especially good for companies that have been around for a while (and thus don’t qualify for BizSpark) and are moving into more of an ISV strategy.


Microsoft Certified Partner

Here’s where it starts getting serious.

Technically the previous two programs (Action Pack and Empower) confirm you as a Registered Partner.

However, as a Certified Partner you have to confirm your product or development team meet certain criteria. For example, you need to earn qualifying points in certain competencies by having Certified developers and references from projects/products delivered.

The benefits are extensive with tons of training and marketing resources, plus a full MSDN Premium Subscription and Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Professional licenses. Certified Partners get access to Microsoft account managers and inroads to being influential in the Microsoft community.

The Certified Partner cost in the AU $ thousands


Microsoft Gold Certified Partner

This is the top of the tree in terms of Microsoft programs.

The Gold Certification is a lot harder to attain (and maintain) with more qualifying points required. The benefits include all the Certified Partner stuff and then some. Savings on training and additional licenses are just some of the extras. Note, licensing can be tricky so make sure you check the fine print. For example, I’ve discovered in the past that by targeting the right competency you can end up with better Visual Studio 2008 edition licensing options.

The Gold Certified Partner membership costs in the AU $ thousands (eg $3.5K or thereabouts)


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By Craig Bailey