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Microsoft curries favor with undergrads

In an effort to win over young software developers, the company is offering its Visual Studio.Net tools at a heavy discount to students and schools.

Microsoft hopes to win over software developers while they're still young.

Microsoft on Thursday released software development tools aimed at college-level computer science students, in an effort to produce a fresh crop of software programmers loyal to its Windows and .Net technology.

The software maker has shipped a version of its new Visual Studio.Net tools with specific features for educational use. Visual Studio.Net is the latest version of Microsoft's development tools that allow people to write Web-based software and services. As part of its overarching .Net software strategy, the company earlier this month released three versions of the tools aimed at the corporate market.

Michael Bronsdon, Microsoft's lead product manager for academic developer marketing, said that Visual Studio.Net Academic is the company's first offering that specifically targets students and teachers. The software maker, which competes against Sun Microsystems, IBM and other Java supporters for talent, is offering its tools at a heavy discount to students and schools in hopes of enticing more--and younger--people to use its technology.

"We are doing an awful lot to get the next wave of developers working with Web services and understanding and working with .Net," said Bronsdon. "And we're focused quite a bit on academia."

Visual Studio.Net Academic includes Web-based software that provides an online area where faculty and students can communicate. For example, professors could put class assignments for students online. The class, in turn, could download the assignments, complete them and upload them to Web-based servers.

The product also includes several wizards that make it easier for programmers to write software by guiding them through the development process.

The cost of the Visual Studio.Net Academic for students is $99, Bronsdon said. Universities can gain access to the Visual Studio.Net tools and install them in their computer labs through a $799 yearly subscription with Microsoft's MSDN Web site.

Visual Studio.Net includes updates to programming languages Visual Basic, Visual C++, as well as C#, the first version of Microsoft's Java-like language.