Microsoft announced a new program the other day called Microsoft BizSpark, where they give away a boat load of software and services to young startups and presumably lock them into Microsoft long-term. For a small start-up with little capital, this has to be a very attractive offer.
Microsoft not only provides free software, it provides you with mentors and marketing help and other invaluable services. If your company is planning on building around Microsoft, say you are .net developer, this is great, but for many others it just means selling your soul for short-term gain without thinking about the future of your company. It's like that old ad from years ago: "You can pay me now or you can pay me later."
On the plus side if you are a privately held company, under 3 years old with less than a million dollars in revenue, Microsoft will give you:
* Microsoft Windows Server® (all versions up to and including Enterprise)
* Microsoft SQL Server® (all versions)
* Microsoft Office SharePoint® Portal Server
* Microsoft System Center
* Microsoft BizTalk® Server
* Microsoft Dynamics® CRM (coming soon)
But wait, don't answer yet. There's still more including access to the Microsoft Azure Services platform, a free subscription to MSDN and various other goodies. Sign-up is free, although strangely, you have to pay $100 to leave the program.
Microsoft isn't stupid. They see younger companies flocking to free open source platforms where there are no start-up costs. I'm guessing Microsoft decided if they could offer Microsoft products and services for free, then startups would choose them over the lesser known free offerings. On the face it, it seems like a pretty sound strategy, but as Frederic Lardinois points out on ReadWriteWeb, it's not just the fact it's free (although that has to be a consideration for any cash-strapped start-up), it's also that it's open source. Microsoft is not and never will be open source.
They are offering to give you a free package of goodies now, but you have to realize that you are going to have pay dearly eventually to continue using all of that software. And that's the catch, and that's the plan, I would assume.
The Bottom Line
The way I see it, if you were planning on using Microsoft tools to build your company, this gives you a head start without making a huge up-front investment, and good for you. Otherwise, don't be drawn in by what is essentially an elaborate shell game under the guise of good will. Make no mistake about it, Microsoft is in the business of selling software, not giving it away, and their long-term goal is to make you a paying customer. If you go in with your eyes open, you won't be surprised when it's time to pay the piper.