No? Well, I’ll tell you … It’s software and it’s free and it’s for students… mainly for students who like programming and stuff…
Back in 2008, presumably when Microsoft were beginning to feel the heat of the force of Linux and other open source software that allowed budding techies to get developing & programming cheaply or even for free, DreamSpark was released. And on since it has rumbled, but as it fulfils quite a specialist role it’s not that widely advertised or even known of. Primarily geared towards STEM-area students (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), DreamSpark is a scheme subscribed to by the University through which students can download and use a variety of software development tools for free. DreamSpark prides itself on creating an arena whereby students can not only access these tools but use them to develop new technology using the Microsoft platforms, and then find a community to share these with and enter into regular innovation competitions.
The cynics amongst us might think that maybe this is just a ploy by Microsoft to promote the creation of new applications on a Windows platform and thereby keep competitors at bay, but it certainly does seem like a good treasure trove of tools aimed at everyone from proficient programmers to those just taking the first steps towards a technical career…
What’s included …
A suite of tools are available such as:
- Azure – users can nab a hefty chunk of cloud upon which they can both develop their app and host it on their cloud-based servers, cutting out the hassle and expense of buying and running their own
- Visual Studio – an integrated development environment which supports many different programming languages. It’s used to develop computer programs, web sites and web-based apps.
- Xamarin – a C#-based mobile app development tool
- Github Student Developer Pack – loads of development tools all in one bundle, including affordable domain registration & hosting, 24/27 programming help, cloud hosting, game development tools, tools to add to your website like Stripe payment processing, databases, email … and loads more
- Robotics Developer Studio 4 – All you need to progam your robots …
- Kodu Game Lab – A simple program to help to build and design games.
And there’s more (such as SQL server tools, Windows itself, tutorials and certifications, OneNote…) but this is already going on a bit. See the list for yourself in the product catalogue.
Useful tools for newcomers to programming
There’s also stuff there for the motivated newbie: never done any programming before but want to see what it’s all about? Well, if you’re of a certain generation you may well remember the BBC Turtle and you may have remembered that you just about got it to draw a square on the floor by telling it how far to go in one direction before it turned a certain number of degrees and carried on along its journey. If you were clever enough to make it write a rude word, not only did you get to spend the rest of the afternoon with the head teacher but you were also well on your way to becoming a programmer extraordinaire. By downloading Small Basic (BASIC is a computer language, Small Basic is a stripped down version of it) and just going through the accompanying tutorial PDF, you’ll soon find your BBC Turtle-esque programming skills coming right back to you. This software really does help demystify the programming experience for beginners and also provides an interesting playground for the more advanced.
National and global competitions
The Imagine Cup also has something for everyone – it’s a whole network of competitions that at their most basic involve encouraging your average no-experience Joes to get a really simple website up on Azure to nab a monthly prize of $1000. At the other end of the spectrum teams of students compete for an annual, global prize of $50,000 by bringing an idea for software, an app or a website all the way from concept to reality. First, teams compete on a national basis in various categories (Innovation, Global Citizenship and so on) and then winners are invited to Seattle for the World Championship finals.
Proving that it’s not all high-concept tech geekery that reigns over these competitions, this year’s overall winners were a team from Brazil who devised a website for global clothes production, matching individuals with tailors and dressmakers to make clothes to order, so you never struggle with a pair of jeans that don’t *really* fit right. Other winners included an all-girl team from Hungary who devised an app to help you correct your posture, working in line with your phone to make you sit up straight, and a team from Australia who created a “Virtual Dementia Experience” allowing an insight into the world of someone suffering with impaired cognitive abilities. Pretty awesome all round.
If you’re sitting on some ideas, wanting some tools to develop apps as a hobby or a sideline or to kickstart a programming career, DreamSpark really is where you should be headed. Head over to our website for more info… then sign up with a Microsoft account, have a nose around and let us know how you’re making use of DreamSpark.