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Developers grumble about Microsoft tools pricing

Some customers voice concern that software giant's team development product will be too costly for smaller consultants and developers.

Planned pricing changes to Microsoft's developer tools are ruffling feathers with some customers, who complain that the software giant will overcharge small companies and independent programmers.

Microsoft on Monday detailed the different editions of its Visual Studio 2005 development tool, which is set for release in the second half of the year. In tandem with the update, the company will revamp the subscriptions scheme to the Microsoft Developer Network, or MSDN, a service that gives developers regular product updates and support.

The changes were meant to simplify the choice among the different Visual Studio editions and give smaller businesses easier access to MSDN, according to Microsoft executives.

However, some developers who work at small consulting firms or independent software vendors said this week that new subscriptions are too costly, particularly when acquiring Visual Studio Team System.

Visual Studio Team System is Microsoft's first major foray into the market for application life cycle tools, suites of products for addressing different phases of the development process.

"I feel it is critical to the success of the Team Development platform that you provide a way for small independents like us to have access to the products at a proportionally smaller fee. The success of Microsoft developer tools has been built on the backs of independents like us that evangelize about their effectiveness in the large enterprises," said one Microsoft customer in an MSDN product feedback forum where customers are lobbying for a change to the licensing.

Visual Studio Team System will have three client editions aimed at different job functions--architect, developer and tester--as well as an optional server component for managing source code and collaborating with other programmers.

Microsoft intends to charge separately from the MSDN subscription for the Visual Studio Team System server, which will cost $2,799. For other Visual Studio products, the subscription includes the cost of the product.

In an interview, Prashant Sridharan, lead product manager in Microsoft's developer division, said Microsoft's lifecycle suite will be much cheaper than products from competitors such as IBM and Borland.

Responding to a blog posting complaining about the cost, Sridharan said the server component of Visual Studio Team System is primarily aimed at larger organizations.

"I get your point about the server, but in the end it's a product intended for medium-to-large teams," Sridharan said. "Microsoft has a right and responsibility to run a profitable business. I think we've done so without sacrificing our responsibility to our customers."

Meanwhile, another independent consultant, Jeff Putz, said the cheaper editions of Visual Studio 2005 lacked first-rate testing tools.

"I guess the reason I'm so annoyed is that I, like a huge percentage of developers out there, have to wear many hats," Putz said. "I have to shell out more than two grand for an MSDN subscription to get what I really need. I refuse to believe that my situation can't be duplicated among thousands of other developers."