Microsoft is giving away free software to early-stage web start-up companies–including university-based projects–as part of a worldwide program called BizSpark, PC World reports. Launched Nov. 5, BizSpark aims to help startups get off the ground by providing production licenses and technical support for several Microsoft products. The licenses are free for the first three years, after which the startups must begin to pay. As well as helping startups, the program gives Microsoft a way to promote the use of its software at a time when open-source alternatives have matured, and as rivals such as Google are promoting their cloud platforms for building web applications. ZocDoc, a New York-based company that offers an online service for booking doctor and dentist appointments, became an early pilot member of the BizSpark program. It received licenses for Microsoft’s Visual Studio, SQL Server, and Windows Server products. "We’re getting all the Microsoft software for free, so that’s great for a startup like us trying to keep our costs low," said CTO and co-founder Nick Ganju. "Some of these software packages can get pretty expensive, so it’s great to be able to keep our software free for the first few years." Other products covered by the program include Office SharePoint Portal Server, BizTalk Server, and Systems Center, with Dynamics CRM to be added soon. To qualify for BizSpark, companies have to be privately held, less than three years old, have annual revenue of less than $1 million, and be developing an online service or hosted application. They also have to be nominated by one of the partners Microsoft is signing up for the program, which include investment companies, university incubators, and economic development agencies…

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