Microsoft is giving developer tools to students around the world, in the hopes that they’ll develop a new wave of exciting Windows software. The DreamSpark program isn’t just for technology students; any college student in Belgium, China, Finland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the United States will be able to download copies of Visual Studio, XNA Game Studio 2.0, the Expression design tools, SQL Server 2005 and Windows Server. Over the next six months, DreamSpark will reach students in Asia, India, Australia, the Americas and more European countries, and high school students will be included in the fall.
Part of the reason that Microsoft is rolling DreamScape out in stages is due to the sheer scale of the program. But when we spoke to Joe Wilson, Microsoft’s senior director of academic initiatives, he explained that determining whether someone who wants to download one of the free software packages is a student or not is also an issue.
How are you dealing with the question of identity and proving who’s eligible for DreamSpark?
The reason a lot of companies have never attempted this before is that the operational side is really challenging. What we’ve done is reach out to the academic community in various ways. The DreamSpark system can plug into multiple sources and one of those is the Shibboleth federation. This is an Internet2 project for federated identity; it works quite nicely and has good coverage. We already plug into large student organizations. We also have retail partners - there are no sales involved here but they already have the ability to verify if someone is a student so we can use that. We’ll do whatever makes most sense for that country. We’ll work with universities, even with government organizations; going into China there’s the Chinese education resource network we’re working with. We’re trying to be appreciative and connective. And we have redundancy. The worst thing would be if someone who’s a student should get this and can’t, so we’ll have a good customer service to make sure they’re taken care of. This is an interesting challenge. We expect some bumps along the way; we have a lot to learn. We hope students have patience and we’ll have patience.
What about Microsoft’s own identity systems, like CardSpace? Why don’t you use those for DreamSpark?
We’re in close cohorts with Kim Cameron [the driving force behind CardSpace]. Like Shibboleth, these are nascent technologies that are beginning to lead the way. We do have CardSpace and that will work when it’s plugged into the system. But we’re trying to be smart and go to where the information already is, so we can get the binary yes or no really quickly. Our glue across that is that’s we’re asking students to have a Windows Live ID so we have some sort of vehicle to carry that attribute, so they don’t have to be validated again [during the] next visit. You’re not getting any personal information, just the “yes” or the “no,” so how do you know how long their degree course lasts?
They need to be re-verified once a year so that once they’re no longer a student they’re off plan; that’s because I want to make 100% certain there is no tax implication for any student who receives software. As a commercial entity when you make a donation or a gift or a free download it can have a value associated with it and we’ve spent a lot of time to make sure that does not happen. I don’t want to create a tax burden on students; I don’t want it to be even something they have to manage.