Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates wants students around the world to begin using his company's software-development tools, and he's giving them...

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Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates wants students around the world to begin using his company’s software-development tools, and he’s giving them away for free.

Gates was expected to announce the Microsoft DreamSpark program during a speech today at Stanford University in California.

The company is making the free software immediately available to an estimated 35 million students enrolled in colleges in the U.S. and China, among other places.

It will expand the program geographically and to high-school students over the course of the year.

The software, including Visual Studio, the company’s suite of programming languages, and Expression Studio, a tool for designing user interfaces and Web pages, would cost thousands of dollars to buy.

Microsoft is limiting the terms of use of the free software to educational purposes, in part so that students who take advantage of the offer will not have to pay taxes on the gift, said Joe Wilson, Microsoft’s senior director of academic initiatives.

Microsoft’s first product was Altair BASIC, a programming language.

“Bill was 17 years old when they began Microsoft. The student DNA thing is built in to us,” Wilson said, noting that the company wanted to help students who are interested in technology and give them a head start on careers that increasingly require computer proficiency.

He acknowledged Microsoft will also benefit by getting the next generation of software developers introduced to its tools earlier.

“Getting people playing with your stuff is a pretty good idea,” he said, adding that it was not the primary motivation.

Details on availability will be posted at Microsoft’s Web site for students:

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or