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Microsoft extends tool giveaway

Looking to woo hobbyists and students, Microsoft will keep its low-end Visual Studio 2005 Express development tool free.

Microsoft has decided to continue indefinitely a free development tool offer it launched last year to better attract hobbyists and students to Microsoft's software.

The company on Wednesday said Visual Studio 2005 Express will be free permanently. When it was released for the first time, last November, Microsoft had said it would be free for a year.

The software giant on Wednesday also detailed a number of partnerships to provide informational resources, including snippets of source code, to nonprofessional developers.

For example, Microsoft has created an application with Lego to program the company's Mindstorm buildable robots. Microsoft is also providing tips to part-time developers to do things such as programming digital cameras, said Dan Fernandez, lead product manager for Visual Studio Express.

"There is a resurgence in hobbyist and do-it-yourself developers," Fernandez said. "We want to enable the next generation of developers."

Microsoft estimates that there are about 18 million nonprofessional programmers. Fernandez said Visual Studio 2005 Express has been downloaded 5 million times since last November.

Providing free software, particularly development tools, has become more commonplace with the swell in open-source software offerings. Companies that cater to professional programmers, such as Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, are eager to get their software into potential customers' hands.

Microsoft on Wednesday also added more features to its free database, SQL Server 2005 Express.

Visual Studio 2005 Express comes in different editions, including those for Visual Basic, C#, J#, C++ and a Web development version that uses JavaScript.