We have launched a programme called "Microsoft DreamSpark", which allows university and college students to download a range of free development and design software resources to help them in their studies. The suites available include Visual Studio (described as "the Swiss Army knife of computer programming"), which is the kind of toolset which can help you programme everything from a computer, to a mobile phone, or a web page. It also includes the major applications in the Expression design suite - including Expression Web, Expression Blend, Expression Design & Expression Media. And for development work, there's also SQL Server & Windows Server.
From today, these are available to more than 6.5 million FE & HE students. Last year's survey co-sponsored with Intellect, the British Computer Society, and The City University, London demonstrated that the "Knowledge Economy" (is that a Microsoft-ism?) is the fastest growing part of the UK economy, and there's a real need to ensure that students have the chance to get the technical skills they may need to operate within it.
Whilst it's easy to think that this will only be of interest to technical students, there's plenty of other areas affected - things like design, where digital design is one of the fastest growing areas; and the ability to manipulate and analyse masses of data seems to spread across most subjects.
Students don't need to get additional validation or accreditation from their university or college to do this download - they can download as long as they have an Athens ID (that's pretty standard for all university students and most college students) or an ISIC card. (For more on student verification, take a look at Ed's blog)
There's more about this on Channel 8, and you can also read the press releases on PressPass
At the moment, this is available in 10 countries, including the UK.