The C++ team just launched a campaign to educate people about the free C++ compiler and resources that users can download, absolutely free. For more information see:
And in case you're a C#, J#, or Visual Basic programmer you shouldn't feel left out in the cold. You can also get all of the compilers (plus lots of other great resources) by downloading the .NET Framework SDK. For J#, you'll also want to grab the J# redist at the bottom of the page.
That will give you everything you need to compile .NET Framework application. Plug in your favorite editer (Notepad, Emacs, etc.) and you're good to go! If you're more of a visual designer developer like me and want all of the productivity features that Visual Studio has to offer, there are a couple of free ways to get your feet wet:
1) Visual Studio Hosted Experience - use your broadband connection to try out Visual Studio .NET 2003 online for free! (http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/tryit)
2) 60-day Trial CD or DVD. Get Visual Studio .NET 2003 for a free 60-day trial. (It just costs a few bucks for shipping and handling). See the links on the right-hand side, depending on where you live, at the link here: http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/productinfo/trial/