Microsoft wants you to be able to use the Professional version of its software development tools and is making it easy for students and new businesses to get started.  These are essentially free MSDN subscriptions that include VS Pro, SQL, Expression, and Windows Server.

  • DreamSpark for Students
    ”DreamSpark is simple; it's all about giving students Microsoft professional-level developer and designer tools at no charge so you can chase your dreams and create the next big breakthrough in technology - or just get a head start on your career.”

    All that is required is verification by MS of your enrollment at a major college, a .edu email address, or by contacting the support team.  High School students can get it by a request from their teacher.
     
  • BizSpark for New Businesses
    ”A program that provides Software, Support and Visibility for Software Startups.”

    The requirement here is that your company is privately held, less than three years old, and making less than $1M annually… or if you help startups you can be a ‘Network Partner’.
     
  • WebsiteSpark for New Web Sites
    ”A program that offers visibility, support and software for professional Web Developers and Designers”

    This program is good for a total of up to three users per Web design and development company, no more than 10 total members in the company, and deployment of a website with the tools within 6 months.
     

Of course with any of these programs, you should check the website for the details on eligibility, my notes are just a synopsis.  For hobbyist that don’t fall into one of these categories, I suggest the VS Express products or think of a fun idea to make some money and start a small business to get into the BizSpark or WebsiteSpark programs.