Free or Highly Discounted Microsoft Development Tools

Microsoft Free Software Programs

I’m a DotNet and SQL Server based web and client-server application developer. At my work place we have MSDN subscription license for all the required tools and software from Microsoft. But, at home for my personal computer, it is highly expensive to buy a MSDN subscription. The trial versions will have a limited days of usage. I needed the development tools and software for longer time duration. So, I started looking for free or highly discounted Microsoft development tools and software for my personal computer. I needed these tools to learn, explore and enhance my development skills during my free time.

There will be many out there, just like me, looking for a cost-effective way to get Microsoft’s development tools for personal use and learning. I would like to share the list of free and highly discounted Microsoft development tools which I’ve come across. Hope this list will help some of you. Please post your thoughts and related information useful to our readers.

Express Editions

On thinking about free development tools from Microsoft, the first thought which comes in our mind is the Express edition. The  express editions of visual studio and sql server are really great for beginners for learning purpose. Even though there are a lot of limitations, these express editions helped me a lot to learn dot net and SQL Server during the earlier state of my career. If you are thinking about learning dot net or sql server, do try the below express editions. They are free and serves the purpose.

  1. Visual Studio Express

    Visual Studio Express editions is split into multiple tools. You can choose the tools required for your purpose. Visual studio express editions can be downloaded for free from the Visual Studio Express Website. You can install them directly using the Install now option or download the ISO image to install later using the DVD ISO image option. Go here to download or install.

    • Visual Studio Express for Web: This edition is used for development of web sites, web services or web-based applications using ASP.NET.
    • Visual Studio Express for Windows: Visual studio for windows is for developing apps for windows store which is used in Windows 8 or higher and on windows phone.
    • Visual Studio Express for Windows Desktop: This edition is for developing client-server applications running on windows desktop.
    • Team Foundation Server Express: This TFS express edition focuses on source code version control, project planning and collaboration, source compiling and building, test case management and reporting. The express edition helps to learn these concepts.

    Go here to download Visual Studio Express Editions.

  2. SQL Server Express

    There are few different types of SQL Server Express Editions. You can download them from SQL Server website. As expected, there are limitations in these SQL Server express editions. The major limitations in express editions are maximum of 1GB memory utilization, database size capped at 10GB, no default SQL Profiler support, etc… Refer this article for more detailed differences between various SQL Server Editions.

    • SQL Server Express LocalDB: This edition is useful only to embed the database along with an application. There is no configuration or IDE needed for this edition.
    • SQL Server Express: This edition just has the database server, nothing else. You will not get the IDE or Management Studio to run your queries or visually see the databases and the tables. If you go for this edition of SQL Server, then you need to have a SQL Server Management Studio already available in the pc you are trying to install the sql server express or on another pc from where you can connect this sql server remotely. You can also download the SQL Server Management Studio Express separately.
    • SQL Server Management Studio Express: As is mentioned above, the management studio express just has the IDE to connect and work with the existing sql server. You need to download and install the SQL Server Express separately.
    • SQL Server Express With Tools: This edition is the best and has the basic required tools for someone new to sql server. This edition includes the SQL Server Express, Management Studio Express, LocalDB, etc..
    • SQL Server Express With Advanced Services: This option includes everything in SQL Server Express With Tools plus reporting services and text search.

    Go here to download SQL Server Express Editions.

Community and Developer Editions

If you think, you need more than the express editions, then you have the community editions and the developer editions. Either they are free or for a fraction of the price compared to the standard or professional editions.

  1. Free Visual Studio Community Edition

    By the end of 2014, Microsoft introduced the community edition of Visual Studio 2013. It’s basically the visual studio professional edition with limitation in licensing. The community edition can be used by individual developers for learning, training or even making paid apps. But organizations are licensed to use the community edition to develop open source applications, or use it for training and research. From Visual studio 2015 on-wards, Microsoft may stop releasing various express editions. Instead a free community edition may be released. You can download the free visual studio community edition from here.

  2. SQL Server Developer Edition

    SQL Server Developer Edition For FreeIf SQL Express editions are very limited for you, then the next option is to go for a very low-priced developer edition. SQL Server Developer Edition is similar to the enterprise edition, but limited by license. Currently SQL Server 2014 Developer Edition is priced between $38 to $69 (Update: as on March 31, 2016 Microsoft is allowing the developers to download the SQL Server Developer Edition free of cost) compared to the $14,000 plus dollars for the enterprise edition with similar capabilities (Refer: With the fraction of the price comes the limitations as well. Developer edition cannot be used on production. It’s strictly licensed for development purpose. If you are a student, then you don’t need to spend even this small price as well. See the details in the dream spark program below.

DreamSpark (Microsoft Imagine)

If you are a student and interested in learning Microsoft’s developer tools, you have a real good news. You can get enterprise and professional level development software and servers FREE of cost through the DreamSpark (now renamed) Microsoft Imagine program.

Microsoft Imagine is a program aimed for the students and the educational institution. Through this program Microsoft provides professional level tools, software and servers for no-cost. These tools can be used for learning, training and researching. You may not use them for commercial application development purpose.

All you have to do is to verify your student status in the Microsoft Imagine website Once you are successfully verified your student status, you will get access to download or install various tools and software like Visual Studio, SQL Servers and Windows Servers. You will also get access to Microsoft Press eBooks for free and details and courses about various certifications. You can see the entire list of Microsoft Imagine software offering here.


Microsoft’s BizPark program is aimed at the start-ups which are less than 5 years old and making less than one million US dollars per year. If your company or organization qualify this conditions then you can sign up for BizPark program here and get access to all the professional level development software and tools for FREE of cost for 3 years. After three years, you will be graduated to the BizPark Alumni program which offers discounted MSDN subscription for 2 years.

This is a great program to get Microsoft’s development software for no cost, for entrepreneurs starting a software development company.

Action Pack

Microsoft Action Pack is a discounted MSDN subscription program aimed at the companies and organizations which wont fit in the BizSpark program. Action pack subscription is not free like the above programs. But you get software for a reasonable subscription price. In USA, the action pack subscription cost is $475. The subscription includes each 10 licenses of windows operating systems, 5 licenses of Office 365, 3 seats of Visual Studio Professional licenses and many more products. You can see and compare the benefits of action pack membership and other memberships here.



Leave your thoughts...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.