Microsoft has launched a program called BizSpark to encourage the use of their products by upcoming startups. As part of the program, they are giving away 3 yr subscriptions for MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network), which will enable startups to obtain free access to tools like Visual Studio, Windows Server, SQL Server and even the recently launched Windows Azure. This is a worldwide program and the eligibility criteria for startups is as follows:
- Be sponsored by a BizSpark Network Partner.
- Be in the business of software development.
- Be privately held and have been in business for less than 3 years.
- Have less than US $1 million in annual revenue.
- To be eligible to use the software for production and deployment of hosted solutions, startups must also be developing a new “software as a service” solution (on any platform) to be delivered over the Internet.
This is great news for startups, as the main reason to not choose these impressive Microsoft tools uptil now has been the cost involved in acquiring them. For two guys in a garage with the next killer idea, it is an easy decision to just go on eclipse.org and get that free IDE and start coding rightaway instead of shelling out several hundred dollars for Visual Studio. And likewise for other tools from Microsoft.
The result has been that over the past several years, most startups developing consumer web applications have built their product offering on the “LAMP” stack, using free and open source software like Eclipse, Apache, Linux, MySQL, etc. The most popular example of such a startup is probably Facebook. For a developer-focused company like Microsoft, this couldn’t have been a palatable situation. BizSpark seems like a win-win program for both Microsoft and startups alike.
My experience with having used Microsoft’s .NET, the LAMP stack and also the J2EE environment for creating web applications has been that for the fastest time to market – nothing beats Microsoft’s tools, if you can afford them. LAMP stack is free and open source, and that is great, but you also spend a lot of time on tweaking things manually, and while that has its benefits, it also means that at the end of the day – the product will ship later than it could have. Likewise for J2EE which involves a lot of time spent in archaic configuration files. Friendster, one of the early social networks, initially built out their product on J2EE. Despite having a JSP book author on the team, they were not able to quickly scale their product and ended up having switching completely to the LAMP stack. By the time, a much quicker site called Facebook, built using PHP, surfaced and trounced them.
For startups with unproven ideas and very limited resources, it is a much better proposition to build something as soon as they can, get it out there and see the market response and then think about the next step. These free tools from Microsoft will definitely help in that.