Let’s get one thing straight up front.  I’m a Microsoft developer.  Proud MSDN Universal Subscriber.  Etc…  I’m not some Ruby on Rails guy set out to bust Microsoft’s chops.  I like Microsoft Development tools.

But honestly, this is just obnoxious.  From Scott Guthrie (Vice President of Microsoft’s Developer Division)…

I’m excited to announce a new program – WebsiteSpark – that Microsoft is launching today.

WebsiteSpark is designed for independent web developers and web development companies that build web applications and web sites on behalf of others.  It enables you to get software, support and business resources from Microsoft at no cost for three years, and enables you to expand your business and build great web solutions using ASP.NET, Silverlight, SharePoint and PHP, and the open source applications built on top of them.

Free software?  What could be wrong with that?!?  Well, this…

WebSiteSpark provides software licenses that you can use for three years at no cost.

I have a lot of friends who are independent developers and who use RoR, Python, et al.  I have had many, many, MANY heated debates on their choice of development tools vs. my choice of development tools.  In those debates the one thing that’s clear is they sincerely believe in an “economic disparity” between how much it costs to develop for Microsoft platforms and how much it costs to develop for LAMP (which technically stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP but for the purposes of this post I’m redefining the P to stands for PHP/Ruby/Python/et al…)

That’s the problem with WebSiteSpark.  It’s essentially a trap.  The impression Microsoft is giving makes it seem like a very thinly veiled attempt to trick developers into using Microsoft technologies because then they’ll be stuck with them.  From lower in Mr. Guthrie’s post…

WebsiteSpark is a 3 year program.  There is no obligation to continue to use any of the software after the three years is over, and there are no costs for the three years other than a $100 program fee at the end of the three years.

At the end of the three years, WebsiteSpark participants can optionally choose to purchase all of the software in the WebsiteSpark program via a $999/year package.  This includes 3 copies of VS Professional, 1 copy of Expression Studio (including Blend and Sketchflow), 2 copies of Expression Web, and 4 processor licenses of Windows Web Server 2008 and 4 processor licenses of SQL Server Web edition that can be used for production deployment.

See, that comes across as disingenuous to me and that’s the problem.  I’m not against the WebSiteSpark program per se.  I think a lot of the “economic disparity” between developing LAMP apps and developing Microsoft apps is imagined and I think $999 a  year for three team members is actually a pretty good deal.

But don’t pretend people can just use Microsoft products for three years and then drop them with no consequence (as if all the products designed in that time won’t need to be updated).  Don’t throw out “no obligation” as if it means anything in the grand scheme of things.

Bottom Line: Free shouldn’t be the selling point here.  The selling point needs to be “Developing with Microsoft products really is cheaper than developing LAMP solutions and we’ll prove it to you.  Here are some free products to try it out”   That’s the case Microsoft needs to make to independent developers.  Not “we’ll give you free products.”  Ideally the message Microsoft needs to get across is “our products will make your job easier and make your projects cheaper even without the free products”.  Only then will they start to woo developers away.

Addendum: To Mr. Guthrie, if you should stumble upon this in your web travels, please fix your Silverlight tutorial.  The WaterMarkedTextBox was removed from the product so it’s really annoying to find it used in your beginners tutorial.  Sorry to call you out in public but I used said tutorial months ago (thanks btw) and this issue was already there.  And it still hasn't been fixed.  Given the main Silverlight site points to your tutorial as a starting point that's bad for all of us who believe in the product.