I’ve been lucky enough to get 2 free MSDN subscriptions over the last few years, so I’ve never needed to purchase Visual Studio, Office or SQL Server. The first MSDN subscription I won in a blogging contest back in 2006, and the second I got when I won the Microsoft MVP award earlier this year (2008). Before you start to think that I’m braging; just let me point out that I am very greatful for this. Below is a list/guide that I would follow if I wasn’t so fortunate, and I’m not talking about softare piracy (that really is stealing!).

Now the point of this post… What if I didn’t win these MSDN Subscriptions? Then, how exactly would I obtain the software necessary to do my job?

No the answer isn’t to borrow CD/DVD’s from work or a buddy. And, No it’s not to fire up Bit Torrent. The software I mention below (all of it) are all freely available to anyone.

Free Tools for Developers

There a quire a few tools out there of various types. Below, I’ll focus on the ways you can obtain, for FREE, software that you may otherwise have to pay for. Also, there are so many tools of various kinds, so I’ll just be focusing on the main ones that you should be aware of.

Integrated Developement Environment (IDE)

  • MS Visual Studio Express Editions - These are FREE editions of the full Visual Studio product. There is no restriction to selling the software you build using these tools, and they contain all the features necessary for you to build your software. These include Visual Basic Express, Visual C# Express, Visual C++ Express and Visual Web Developer Express.
  • SharpDevelop - This is a FREE, Open Source IDE for developing .NET applications. It's been around since before Microsoft released the Visual Studio Express editions.
  • MS Silverlight Tools for Visual Studio 2008 SP1 - This is a FREE add-on to Visual Studio (both Full Editions and Free Express editions) that enables you to build Silverlight 2 applications. You can find more info on this here.


  • MS SQL Server Express Edition - This is a FREE edition of SQL Server. There are some scalability requirements with it, but it's still perfect for development purposes.

Other Tools

  • .NET Reflector - This allows you to easily view, navigate and searh through the class hierarchies of any .NET assembly; even if you don't have the source code. This tool is invaluable, since it can decompile .NET assemblies and show you the VB.NET, C# or IL code.
  • Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar - This is an add-on to IE7 that adds a much improved (and needed) set of client-side/javascript debugging tools.

There are plenty of tools you can use to develop software for the Microsoft/Windows platform that are completely FREE. All you need is a copy of Windows to begin with, and that comes with any PC you buy.

How to obtain paid tools at No Co$t

Since you can’t exactly go to Microsoft.com and download the Full/Paid versions of their software for Free; there are time when they give it away. You just need to look out for those nice opportunities and take advantage of them.

Here’s a couple examples in the past that I took advantage of, if I remeber them correctly:

  • Once upon a time there were some online screencasts for VB.NET from Microsoft. If you viewed a certain number of them within a certain time period, then you could enter your mailing address and Microsoft would send you a copy of Visual Basic .NET 2003 for FREE.
  • Back in 2005, Microsoft had this "Ready to Launch" tour that was put on by the MSDN Events people (it was a free conference). If you attended you got a CD/DVD pack that included the Full, RTM versions of Visual Studio 2005 Standard Edition and SQL Server 2005 Standard Edition for FREE.
  • In Dec. 2006, Microsoft gave a bunch of copies of Visual Studio 2008 Professional edition to the Wisconsin .NET Users Group to give away at a special Launch/Holiday meeting that month.
  • In early 2008, Microsoft put on the {Heroes Happen Here} events across the country, again they were free copies of Windows Vista Ultimate w/ Service Pack 1, Visual Studio 2008 Standard, SQL Server 2008 CTP, and Windows Server 2008 1 year trial.

As you can see, I’ve been able to take advantage of a few FREE opportunities to obtain the tools I need to do my job. I really encourage you to take advantage of these if you can.

Happy coding, now go get your Free Tools. And, remember, Do Not Pirate Steal Software; would you want someone to steal the software you write, the same software you’re trying to make money on?