Microsoft’s move to counter LAMP: WebsiteSpark

When small companies and startups look for development tools, they often look to the open source community to cut down costs. Given the choice to spend nothing on licensing for a LAMP configuration compared to thousands of dollars in Microsoft licensing fees, it doesn’t take an MBA to realize why Apache’s market share is 46.6% compared to 21.9% for Microsoft IIS. Those numbers might be about to change thanks to a new Microsoft seed program, WebsiteSpark.

WebsiteSpark follows on the heels of Redmond’s two previous popular seed programs, DreamSpark for full-time students and BizSpark for software companies. These programs plant the seeds of Microsoft development tools into their intended fields for no upfront costs. Once the students/programmers/developers sees the fruits of their work come through with Microsoft tools, the hope is that they will remain loyal customers.

How does the program work?

The WebsiteSpark program is open to all companies who:

  • Build websites or web applications for others
  • Have less than 10 employees

If you fit these criteria, then you need to visit the WebsiteSpark website to sign up. You will need a Windows Live ID to sign up. If you don’t have one, you can register for one on the sign up page.

Now comes the first tricky part. If you did not receive a referral code from a Microsoft event, you have two options. First, you can choose a network referral partner to act as a sponsor for you. The second option is to send for a referral code from Microsoft during the registration process. This can take a couple of days.

So once you have received your welcome email from Microsoft, you can start accessing the benefits.

What comes with it?

Now for the good stuff. When you are accepted into the program, you have access to the following:

  • 3 licenses of Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition
  • 1 license of Expression Studio 3 (this includes Expression Blend, Sketchflow, and Web)
  • 2 licenses of Expression Web 3
  • 4 processor licenses of Windows Web Server 2008 R2
  • 4 processor licenses of SQL Server 2008 Web Edition

Not only do you get this software, for no upfront costs, but you have access to Microsoft training hosted online and opportunities to promote your business and products to others in the program.

To make things easier on developers, Microsoft also includes the Web Platform Installer and the Windows Web Application Gallery to provide members with a repository of third-party applications and tools, some of which are free and open source.

The fine print

Now comes the fine print. Remember when I said there were no upfront costs? Well there aren’t. Microsoft offers this program for free during the first three years. Upon completion of the third year, the member is charged $100. Once the three years are over, there are two options that one can take. Either pay $999 per year to keep the program as is, or opt for a scaled-down version for $199 per year.

So there are strings, but that is why it is called a seed program. Microsoft hopes it will be able to showcase its products to a customer base that would most likely be looking towards free/open source products. Once these developers have built their products on Microsoft’s platform… well you do the math.

About the author:
Jeff Orloff is a technology writer and consultant. His work can be found at and His favorite project is the iLAND5 network built specifically for kids.

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