Microsoft .NET: It's Academic
How can .NET get traction? Convince students to use it.
By Jonathan Goodyear
In Recipe for Adoption, I discussed several factors I feel must take place before Microsoft's .NET Initiative takes hold and is implemented on a grand scale. One important factor I failed to mention was the role academics must play. I'll correct that omission here by discussing what Microsoft is doing on the academic front.
No matter how cool or powerful the .NET development platform is, it won't gain any traction unless Microsoft can convince developers to use it. Microsoft has done this brilliantly with experienced developers through its popular beta program. Experienced developers had to be convinced to drop their existing development platform for .NET, but what about the millions of high school and college students around the world who are just learning to develop software? One way to ensure these young developers choose the .NET development platform is to train them to use it while they are in school. This is exactly what Microsoft was thinking when it began its .NET blitzkrieg through the education systems of the world.
So, what exactly is Microsoft doing to promote .NET in the academic world? I am forever the curious skeptic, so a few weeks ago, I set out to answer that question. I spoke to Michael Bronsdon, Microsoft's lead product manager for its Academic Development Marketing department. Bronsdon said Microsoft is not engaged in a centralized effort to promote .NET in colleges and schools. Rather, it is evangelizing .NET aggressively through several distinct avenues. One of its first efforts was to stage on-campus launch events for Visual Studio .NET at 20 top universities around the United States. In total, more than 17,000 students attended these events. Bronsdon further stated that Microsoft has held several summits for both high school and university faculty around the world to discuss .NET, in locations such as the United States, United Kingdom, and Beijing.
Microsoft isn't simply promoting .NET to schools with fancy events and marketing shtick, though. It has gone several steps further by introducing other initiatives designed to help schools adopt .NET quickly and easily. It also established the Microsoft Developer Network Academic Alliance (MSDNAA; see References). MSDNAA membership costs only $799 ($399 for a high school), and it includes access to the complete suite of Microsoft developer tools, servers, and platforms. Better still, a single MSDNAA license covers every professor, student, and lab computer in a college or university department or an entire high school. More than 1,500 departments in 815 colleges and universities have signed up already. While speaking with Bronsdon, I mentioned that I thought Microsoft should offer the MSDNAA subscription for free. He responded that the subscription price is mostly to cover its own costs for the media and other materials it distributes to MSDNAA subscribers. At a minimum, Microsoft is making far less profit on this academic subscription than with its MSDN Universal subscription charge, which nets the company $2,799 per individual license.
Microsoft also created two new CDs to help faculty and students jump into .NET quickly. Bronsdon sent me copies of both to review. The first CD is the Microsoft .NET Framework Academic Resource Kit. Perhaps the label says this CD is for academic use, but I was blown away by how useful it is for any developer. From links to just about every .NET compiler in existence to full length courses, hands-on labs, presentations, and workshops, it took me several hours to discover all that was there, much less take it all in. The second CD is the Microsoft Visual Studio .NET Academic Reviewer's Guide. This is where Microsoft got really innovative. On this CD, Microsoft discusses its Visual Studio .NET Academic software. It includes an entire academic teaching, assignment, and grading system integrated into the Visual Studio .NET Integrated Development Environment (IDE). In brief, faculty can post project assignments and sample projects to a central server from within Visual Studio .NET, and students can view, download, complete, and turn in their .NET assignments from within the IDE. In addition, faculty can receive and grade student assignments using the IDE, and students can check their assignment grades from the IDE, as well. MSDNAA subscribers can download Visual Studio .NET Academic.
As an additional resource, Microsoft launched a student version of its popular GotDotNet Web site (see References). On GotDotNet Student, students can create a home page and message board for their school and view student-oriented .NET tutorials and demos. Students also can learn about Web sites other students have created to promote .NET. One such example is DevHood, an open-source Web site built by six students from MIT (see References). For those students who are looking to promote themselves, GotDotNet Student offers them the ability to link to their resume to content they have submitted to the site. Surprisingly, Microsoft is also targeting high schools directly through its MainFunction Web site (see References). MainFunction offers resources for both high school students and educators, and it underscores Microsoft's desire to start students down the .NET path early in their education.
Kurt Messersmith in the Microsoft Research (MSR) University Relations group told me that MSR is engaged in a totally separate initiative to promote .NET in colleges and universities. In addition to involvement with students in efforts such as the Visual Studio .NET work with academia, MSR gave more than $75 million per year to colleges and universities, some of which goes to fund computer science research in areas such as Web Services, distributed computing, and mobile and wireless technologies. MSR hosts an annual Faculty Summit involving 300 faculty from leading universities worldwide. It also recently held a Web Services contest for students, which received more than 400 submissions. The winning team received $15,000 as well as $15,000 for its school's scholarship fund.
After delving into the various initiatives Microsoft has begun on the academic front, I am highly impressed. They are supplying money, software, people, and specially tailored tools and Web sites to ensure schools are immersed in everything .NET. The pure object-oriented nature of the .NET development platform makes it an ideal choice for educational institutions, so I think Microsoft's heavy involvement is a good thing.
Look out, because a bumper crop of .NET developers will be graduating from a university near you.
Jonathan Goodyear is president of ASPSoft (http://www.aspsoft.com), an Internet consulting firm based in Orlando, Fla. He's a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) and is author of Debugging ASP.NET (New Riders). Jonathan also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. E-mail at mailto:[email protected] or through his angryCoder eZine at http://www.angryCoder.com.