Microsoft WebsiteSpark : Free Full Featured Development Tools

I’ve recently started my own virtual infrastructure by renting some dedicated servers in the UK. One of those servers will run my soon to be re-developed ProcessWorks website, which will expand on the articles I write via this blog, but also include training material, downloads, one or two useful public web services and the details of a secret product still in development.  But enough of the advertisement.

The other machine is my development server, which now hosts a full on Microsoft development environment. As Microsoft is clearly a commercial entity and a proportion of non Microsofter’s tend to moan about the fact you have to actually pay for enterprise software, this might surprise you. I managed to kit out my new virtual development server for the high price tag of… FREE… and with the following specification:

  • .NET 4 Development Framework
  • SQL Server 2008 R2 Web (includes database engine, reporting services, notification services etc) – Much more than Express edition.
  • Visual Studio Professional 2010
  • Sharepoint Foundation 2010
  • Microsoft Expression Studio 4 Premium (includes Expression Web, Encoder, Design and Blend)
  • BizTalk Server 2010 Developer Edition

In my case I already had Windows 2008 R2 Standard installed with the Web Server and Application Server roles turned on (but I’ll get to how you can download Windows Server 2008 R2 for free also).

This was all made possible via Microsoft’s continuing support of new start businesses and developers.  Biztalk 2010 is available as a free full featured download for developers through this link.  This is an amazing integration and process server and if you wish to learn Biztalk, this is what you need.  The installer takes care of downloading the pre-requisites or allows you to load a pre-req .cab file and away you go. The available training material for Biztalk from Microsoft is plenty available.  The rest of the software listed above was obtained via one of Microsoft’s ‘Spark’ programs.

  • BizSpark is aimed at new small businesses and offers Microsoft software for free via their MSDN download portal.  This is clearly a move to seed more expensive Microsoft infrastructures and companies expand, but it’s free and you can always decide to get smart and replace with free technology.
  • DreamSpark is aimed at students, giving them access to software they can use to aid study.  Provided you can prove you are a student, you get access to software such as Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate, Expression Studio 4 Premium, XBox SDK, SQL Server 2008 R2 and operating systems such as Windows Server 2012 / 2008 R2. A pretty neat deal.
  • WebSiteSpark is aimed at small web development companies, like ProcessWorks.  I have created a couple of ASP.NET web sites for clients and the software that has been made available has been so very useful.  You simply sign in with your MSN/Hotmail credentials, provide the name of the your company and the address and then you are registered and have access to the Microsoft partner portal / MSDN downloads.  You are granted several licensce keys for much the same product set as is given to students via DreamSpark.  You are also given access to a free set of ASP.NET UI controls from a third party company and get a 1400 dollar voucher for using Microsoft’s Azure cloud service to deploy your applications (this is not a pre-requisite to signing up however).

So, in my case, I have a small company so I went with WebsiteSpark (for the choice of software I wanted).  So unfortunately these support programs are not open to everyone, however if you are a student, small start-up or a one man ltd company, you can get access to what would normally be very expensive software, for free.


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