Legally Getting the Latest Microsoft Software for [Practically] Nothing

by Randy Guthrie – Microsoft Academic Developer Evangelist

If you are a student, particularly a college student taking a science, math,engineering, any kind of computer or IT, or design course, did you know you can get almost every title that Microsoft makes for free? And even if you aren’t a “STEM-D” (science, technology, engineering, math & design) student, you can get some of the core developer technologies for free.  Thinking about starting a tech business? Then you might be able to qualify for free software as well.  Following is a list of some of Microsoft’s biggest software access programs:


The Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance (MSDNAA) is a subscription program similar to MSDN but for Higher Education students and faculty rather than IT professionals.  The MSDNAA subscription is held by academic departments such as Computer Science, Information Systems, Electrical Engineering etc.  While these are the departments that will typically have subscriptions, any STEM-D department can have one. A subscription typically costs a department about $350/per year to renew, but its not uncommon for the local Microsoft Academic Developer Evangelist to give out an initial three-year complementary subscription for free.

MSDNAA provides Microsoft “developer” software to classrooms, labs, faculty and students all within the single subscription price. In other words, if a computer science department has a subscription, then they can use that single subscription to provide Microsoft’s software to all of their faculty, students, labs and classrooms. What software is included in MSDNAA?  We jokingly say “everything but Office” because there are hundreds of titles.  An very short sampling includes: Windows 7, Vista, XP, Server 2008, Visual Studio, Forefront Client Security, Expression Studio, Visio, Project, SQL Server, Robotic Studio, XNA Game Developer, MapPoint, Office Accounting, Streets and Trips to name a few.

There are two software distribution methods in MSDNAA.  The administrator’s portal (nick-named “Gabby”) allows the department’s MSDNAA administrator to download software for manual distribution to faculty and students. Gabby also can generate product keys, including volume-license keys for creating computer lab images.  The other distribution mechanism is the “E-Academy License Management Systems” or ELMS for short, and it the primary mechanism for providing the software to students.  With ELMS, the department’s MSDNAA administrator selects the software titles to make available, then uploads the e-mail addresses of eligible students. The students receive an e-mail with a link to the department’s download portal and a password. From there the students are able to download a single copy of the software the administrator selected and generate a product key for its use.


The DreamSpark program is similar to MSDNAA in that its purpose is to provide software to college students for free. Their are two key differences however. The first is that the DreamSpark program is open to any college student, and does not require that the student go through a college department. The list of available titles is much shorter, but does include the latest and most popular software developer applications including Visual Studio, Expression Studio, IT Academy Online, XNA Game Developer, Windows Server and SQL Server.  Student’s have to verify their enrollment status by using a .edu e-mail address or through a third-party validation process accessed through the DreamSpark website.

The Ultimate Steal

The Ultimate Steal is a program where students can buy Microsoft Office 2007 Ultimate for about 10% of retail ie: $59.95. Microsoft Office 2007 Ultimate includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote, Outlook, Groove, and InfoPath. To be eligible students must be currently registered in college taking at least .5 credit hours and must have a .edu e-mail address. The $59.95 price is for the download version (no DVD), but for an additional $15, you can order a hard copy on DVD in the clamshell case as a backup. 

Windows 741

Windows 741 is a program where students can order Windows 7 Home Premium (assuming they can’t get Windows 7 Pro or Enterprise for free via MSDNAA – see above) for $29.99, that is about 25% of retail. This is a limited-time offer that expires on January 3, 2010.


Microsoft® BizSpark™ is a global program designed to help accelerate the success of early stage software development startups by providing key resources when they need it the most. The program provides software with no up-front cost (and the payment of $100 fee upon exit) and connection to a support network of incubators, investors, government agencies and hosters.

Microsoft’s goal in all of this is to give students (and new start-up companies) experience with our tools and platforms early in their career by providing legal enterprise-capable tools when cost is a factor and where they need all the help they can get.  In return, we are hoping that they will consider using our tools and technologies when they are professionals. Most college students are unaware that they could get this software for free.  Know a student? Pass this on!



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