Microsoft revamps developer partner program

Microsoft is encouraging small software developers to build extensions such as compilers for its Visual Studio .Net development tool by offering free access to the Visual Studio Industry Partner software development kit, the company said.

The Visual Studio Industry Partner (VSIP) program, available worldwide, has been expanded from a single-tier program, in which partners paid Microsoft US$10,000 a year, to a three-tiered program with no-charge membership at the lowest level, said Marie Huwe, a general manager in Microsoft's Developer and Platform Evangelism division.

"We really want to start a partner renaissance," Huwe said. "We have a lot of smaller ISVs (independent software vendors) who want to create new tools, but frankly a $10,000 bar was too high for them. There have been a lot of small startups with tools that have died on the vine because of that."

Microsoft currently has about 175 developer partners who offer about 300 tools for and add-ons to its Visual Studio .Net IDE (integrated development environment). These include Borland Software Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp., Microsoft said.

The new three-tiered partner program has Affiliate, Alliance and Premier level memberships. Microsoft announced the partner program changes at the VSLive conference for Visual Studio developers in New York Tuesday.

Free, Affiliate-level membership is meant for small independent software vendors (ISVs) and academic users who just want access to the Visual Studio Industry Partner SDK (software development kit) and don't need support beyond access to the discussion forum on the VSIP Web site, Microsoft said.

Alliance members pay $3,000 a year and get the Affiliate-level benefits, and additional help with marketing their products and a subscription to the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) online resource for developers, Microsoft said.

Existing $10,000 a year members will become Premier members and get all Affiliate and Alliance level benefits, and distribution rights for Visual Studio and Visual Studio Premier Partner edition and a high level of marketing assistance from Microsoft, the company said.

With distribution rights, premier members such as Intel Corp. and Fujitsu Ltd. will be able to sell versions of Visual Studio .Net with their components plugged in, instead of just selling the plug-in and customers having to buy Visual Studio separately, Huwe said.

At the VSLive conference Microsoft will also detail its roadmap for Visual Studio .Net. and talk about Visual Studio Tools for the Microsoft Office System.

The next version of Visual Studio .Net, code-named Whidbey, is due out at the same time Microsoft releases the next version of its SQL Server database, code-named Yukon, in the second half of next year, Huwe said.

Another upgrade to Visual Studio .Net, code-named Orcas, is planned for when Microsoft ships Longhorn, the code name for the next version of Windows, she said.

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