June 29, 2004 5:45 AM PDT

Microsoft targets amateur programmers

Microsoft is reaching out to nonprofessional programmers with a revamped line of developer tools, including a free version of its forthcoming SQL Server database.

As expected, the company launched the new Express line of developer tools at its TechEd Europe conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday. The lightweight editions of the tools and database are meant to expand Microsoft's presence among students and hobbyists.

Microsoft said it will release the Express line, which will include stripped-down versions of its Visual Basic, Visual C#, Visual C++ and Visual J++ products, in the first half of next year. At the same time, the company plans to launch a free version of its database software, called SQL Server Express Edition, along with a new product, Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition, for building Web sites and Web services.

The tools will be priced in the "tens of dollars," said John Montgomery, director of marketing for Microsoft's developer division. The full versions of Microsoft's tools targeted at professionals can cost nearly $2,000.

Montgomery said Microsoft is targeting a large population of people--the company estimates that there are 18 million nonprofessional programmers, compared with 6 million professionals--who want cheap or free products appropriate for building business applications. Often, nonprofessionals use Web-oriented tools, such as FrontPage or Macromedia Flash, which are suitable for front-end design but not database-driven business applications, he said.

The move to offer low-cost tools is also intended to blunt the growing popularity of open-source alternatives to Windows, such as Linux. For years, Microsoft has relied on, and catered to, its huge base of Windows programmers. Applications that those programmers have created over the last two decades have in turn driven the popularity of Windows itself.

Windows, and Microsoft's underlying .Net development model, have actually gained in popularity among professional programmers in large companies within the past year, according to a recent survey conducted by Evans Data. But some developers have argued that open source and Linux are capturing more attention among new developers and students, due to lower cost and easier availability to tools.

As Linux gains in popularity as a server operating system, developers will more likely target their applications to it. Linux-based servers are expected to account for 29 percent of server unit shipments and about $9.7 billion in revenue this year, according to market researcher IDC.

Likewise, open-source database alternatives, such as MySQL, are increasingly being used by Web developers for prototyping and application deployment. Microsoft expects the Express version of SQL Server to compete with MySQL, said Tom Rizzo, director of product management in the SQL Server unit. The database will be limited to running on a single server processor, with 1GB of memory and 4GB of storage.

"It is really for a data-driven application where you just want a place to put your data in and maybe have it interoperate with (higher-end versions of) SQL Server through replication," Rizzo said.

The Express edition allows developers to use Visual Studio to write "stored procedures," or pre-written database queries, with different programming languages and store XML as a data type. However, it does not have reporting capabilities or the same management tools as the full-scale editions of SQL Server, he said.

Separately, Microsoft executives also confirmed that beta versions of two major new products, SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005, are "imminent." The company delayed delivery of both products earlier this year. Completed products are expected in the first half of next year.

Microsoft also plans to announce an agreement with Amazon.com and eBay to make software development kits for Amazon, eBay and PayPal Web services available to Microsoft developers via download.

CNET News.com's Mike Ricciuti contributed to this report.

5 comments

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May be to late
Often wondered why Microsoft doesn't sell their software to developers or student/wanna learn something new individuals at the same price they sell to their employees. With the economy the way it is their subscription prices, etc. are just to high to justify for the student or someone wanting to learn the MS tools. Like Oracle, SUN, etc. they seem to be missing the boat. Make your product reasonable so individuals can purchase and their influence in the marketplace becomes a formidable force to deal with. Apple used this technique for years by giving or selling their systems to schools, only to then raise prices so high that as the students who grew up couldn't afford to go buy an Apple and the associated software, so they switched to PC's.
Sounds like the martketing types are spending too much time in the classroom and not enough in the real world to see how things work.
Posted by cballinger (7 comments )
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You've got it!
That's exactly it. Availability of high end tools to the novice programmer is what drove the growth of Windows in it's early years. I remember running DOS and hardly ever running Windows 3.1 because there were no useful applications for it. Microsoft pushed tools into the hands of developers back then, and Windows use skyrocketed.

They will continue to have a hard time trying to match the price of the Linux tools, but they have a huge head start on what their tools can do over the free Linux tools.

MS needs to push the new developers into using their products or risk losing more market share.
Posted by zaz.net (46 comments )
Link Flag
OCOA
Overall Cost Of Application

Oh my, just like as was/is the case with Access and those macro's in various Office files I forsee a whole new legion of wannabee code warriors who for all the right reasons in various wrong ways craft together automated gadgets that slowly but surely grow into department vital processes and from there on into enterprise vital processes that somehow get overlooked time and time again (but do require ever increasing budget and man hours). Yet remain poorly documented (if any), almost impossible to support, very difficult to migrate or upgrade, and somehow finds it way and hooks into all sorts of other automated gadgets that slowly but surely etc etc.

Look, I'm not saying that for the stand-alone, 'quick and dirty', automated task one should put together an entire development team. But one should also be aware that certain tools should only be taken so far before being replaced by more professional solutions (which come with very different price tags included).

Ask anyone who had the 'pleasure' of 'upgrading' certain products enterprise wide within a given time-frame and for a given budget. It's absolutely unbelieveable how creatively (with the best intentions nonetheless) people can get while totally ignoring very important (business) things. And I'm not entirely sure if such automated tasks are the best basis to get 'upgraded' into a full scale enterprise solution 'as is'.

In short: don't get hooked. Control these things before they get out of hand.
Posted by arthur-b (31 comments )
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Why I am interested
I am chasing Microsoft to find out when this will begin shipping. I am currently developing intranet applications for my company and I use the LAMP 'framework' (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP5).
Off lately I see two new initiatives that will shape the future of my type of application development. Firstly , I think it is worthwhile looking at the following forum thread on the Zend website : <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.zend.com/phorum/read.php?num=6&#38;id=1323&#38;loc=0&#38;thread=1323" target="_newWindow">http://www.zend.com/phorum/read.php?num=6&#38;id=1323&#38;loc=0&#38;thread=1323</a>
which is no big surprise following the latest trends in the future of PHP ,
and secondly I see a lot of focus on the Mono project which would bring development together in a uniform 'framework'.
Anxiously awaiting Microsoft's response..
Posted by infochen (1 comment )
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customer view
The general problem with Microsoft only (or preferred) applications developed by third-parties is the (hidden) price tag (or strings) attached to it as far as the customer is concerned. Certainly in the long run.

Think life cycle, support issues and future migration cost for one.

Quite frankly, in my view, any developer who doesn't respect such (customer) obstacles is doing his/her customer a disfavor. The average customer would like to purchase a product and let it do its thing for many years to come. Not to experience the cascading effects of upgrading (or even implementing) one thing and then be forced into upgrading a lot more because of this or that or whatever.
Posted by arthur-b (31 comments )
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