SEATTLE Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) unveiled a new initiative on Monday that will give college and high school students around the world free access to technology tools used to develop and design software.
The world's largest software maker said the initiative will allow students to use Microsoft's developer and designer tools to write software applications, design elaborate Web pages or create new video games to run on the Xbox 360 console.
The development and design tools are available immediately to college students in the United States, Western Europe and China, but Microsoft said it will eventually extend the program to other countries and high school students, potentially reaching 1 billion students.
Chairman Bill Gates, who co-founded Microsoft with childhood friend Paul Allen, recalled how, as a teenager, he would sneak in at night to a company that sold shares of time on a big mainframe computer to read the manuals and learn more about developing software.
These were the days before the personal computer and getting computer access was difficult and expensive. With that in mind, Gates wanted to give broad access to software tools that can be expensive and difficult to get for students.
"I can relate very well to these student developers," Gates said in an interview with Reuters. "For students, any fee is a barrier."
Gates will unveil the "DreamSpark" initiative during a tour of U.S. and Canadian colleges starting on Tuesday with a speech at Stanford University.
Using a broadband connection, students can download Visual Studio, Microsoft's main development tools used by professional developers, and Expression Studio, design software that rivals Adobe Systems Inc's (ADBE.O) Creative Suite offering.
Gates said many designers opt for Adobe's design software because they are more familiar with it and the company could benefit if students become more comfortable working with Microsoft's design tools.
Microsoft said it will also make available XNA Game Studio software development tools for writing video games and a free one-year membership to the "XNA Creators Club" so they can bring those games to the Xbox 360 platform.
"For the individual developer ... getting their hands on these tools hasn't been that simple," Gates said.
In the past, Microsoft has made development and design software available to students, but it was up to the universities to register for the program. As a result, most of the students who took advantage of the program tended to be computer science students at major universities.
Gates said he hopes this latest initiative will deepen the pool of potential developers as well as the fields of study where software can lead to breakthroughs.
For Reuters MediaFile blog see: blogs.reuters.com/mediafile/
(Reporting by Daisuke Wakabayashi, Editing by Ian Geoghegan)