To those who watch Microsoft’s dev tools, there are betas of the 2005 versions now available. MSDN subscribers can download full products straight away; others can order CDs, or stick to the Express products, which for trying out new languages, are quite nicely featured.
It’s a cunning strategy for Microsoft, helping to counter the proliferation of free programming languages such as Java and PHP by providing free development environments for ASP, VB, C#, C++ and their own (some would say mutated) J# implementation of Java.
MSDE, which has been around for years now, providing a royalty-free cut-down SQL Server, has been renamed SQL Server Express to show its heritage. (Well, its SQL Server heritage… most people know it grew out of Sybase, but that’s ancient history). Keeping it free thus helps fight off the MySql threat and allowing people for whom Access isn’t cutting it to be encouraged up to SQL Server).
Looking back 20 years to when I was growing up, trying out BASIC on my Commodore 64 or BBC Micro, I ponder how the next generation of programmers are getting hooked into this game. I suspect a mix of freebie entry-level products like this (and their counterparts from the world of open-source) is one way they can get involved. Which probably explains MS’s “Coding 4 Fun” web site.