I usually come across as anti-Microsoft, but I have experienced that they aren’t as evil as everyone likes to believe. Did you know that computing students can get Microsoft software for free? Yes, that’s right, free.

Microsoft have a program (the non-software kind) called the Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance, or MSDNAA, which provides free Microsoft software for departments, including students and faculty of the department. It is available for collages and universities (and some high schools), although only certain department types can apply.

I will point out now, although it is free for students and faculty downloading the software, the department providing it must pay an annual fee. But it’s not like universities can’t afford it with how much they charge us for our education.

I have made use of this service through my university. In fact, my computer runs 3 operating systems, including XP Professional and Vista Business both of which I downloaded through MSDNAA (the 3rd is Ubuntu is case you were wondering).

Here’s a screenshot of just some of the software I have access to:

You can only obtain 1 product key per software package, e.g. I cannot obtain another XP Professional product key through this service. They do keep track of your product keys for you though, just in case you lose it.

The use agreement

There is a use agreement that you have to sign before you are given access to your department’s download area. The basic rules you have to follow are:

  • Don’t share the software downloaded even with other eligible students. You can’t share the product keys either.

  • Use the software for non-commercial purposes only.

  • Once your course has ended you must stop downloading software via MSDNAA, but you can continue to use previously installed software (I wouldn’t have installed the OSs otherwise). You do still have to follow the other terms, e.g. non-commercial use.

  • If you violate the terms of the agreement you have to uninstall all software downloaded via MSDNAA. The program admin for your department will ensure this is done.

All in all I think those are quite generous terms, especially as they allow you to continue using the software once you leave the course.

Is it worth it?

If you are eligible for the free downloads, then yes it is definitely worth it! It’s free, high quality software and it doesn’t take long to get access. When I signed up it took only a day for my account to activate.

As to whether or not it is worth it for the department, I would say it probably is, especially if the students are expected to know how to use any of Microsoft’s product for their course. For example, on my course we had to learn how to use Microsoft Project and include a Project file in some coursework submissions. Having access to Project at home was of great benefit.

Aside from cases like that, on a programming course it is likely students who excel will want to explore further development areas and tools. Setting up compilers on different operating systems has been a frustrating yet educational experience that I am glad to have had.

If a department can afford to pay the fee I think they should make the effort to provide this service for the students. Hopefully enough students will use the service to make it worthwhile.

Does your department run the program?

If you attend an applicable department (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) there’s every chance your department participates in this program. Microsoft provide a school member search you can use to check if your school participates.

If they don’t run it, point out the benefits and try to get them to sign up.

Microsoft Office student discount

MSDNAA isn’t the only nice thing Microsoft do for students. They provide Microsoft Office at discount rates for students, although you will have to catch the deal at the right time of year depending on your country – the UK deal has expired for this academic year.

I purchased Microsoft Office 2007 for around £40 in 2007 (~US$65 then), which Microsoft say is 90% off the estimated retail price.

People often believe the cheaper student product contains only a few of the Office suite programs. That is in fact wrong. At the student price I obtained:

  • Word 2007
  • Excel 2007
  • Publisher 2007
  • PowerPoint 2007
  • Outlook 2007
  • Access 2007
  • Groove 2007
  • OneNote 2007
  • InfoPath 2007


I would like to believe Microsoft help students out of the kindness of their hearts. However, they most likely have an ulterior motive, such as getting students to trust them or to make them pay to upgrade their licences to commercial after their course has ended (if they happen to use their personal computer for work).

Whatever the motive, Microsoft’s kindness to students does soften my heart toward them a little.

Your opinion

I’d like to hear your opinion on Microsoft in regard to students and also any experiences you’ve had with MSDNAA or student discounts on Microsoft products. Please leave comment below.

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    • Interesting…

      When I was in school Microsoft used to offer the same products but, way back then anyway (we’re talking 1996), the product was never the FULL version; just a slimmed down “Student Edition” (for example, no Outlook in Office but you’d get FrontPage. WTF?). I didn’t study computers in school though so it’s definitely possible this was an option for CS students.

      I do believe you’re right about an ulterior motive but I think it revolves around building competence in the next crop of professionals instead of good will. If you know how to operate using their products you’re more likely to receive a job with a company building technology in line with theirs and on their stack.

      Good read 🙂

      • Thanks for your comment Eric.

        It did surprise me when I bought my student Office 2007 package that it had so many full programs in it. I couldn’t even convince my lecturer that it was true.

        You have a good point about building competence, perhaps even it’s to introduce students to products they won’t have used otherwise. I haven’t really made full use of the program, but in my 3rd year I’ll be downloading everything I think I can make use of. Still, I don’t want to get too reliant on MS products, there’s plenty of good open source alternatives, especially for IDEs.

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