Microsoft is trying to woo the students by offering its development tools for free (via Slashdot). Called DreamSpark, the offering is open to too all students across the globe. Microsoft hopes that this will create users for Microsoft’s tools, and possibly eat into the open source user base.
I sure agree that this is a good move, as this will help a lot of students get their hands on the tools without shelling out a fortune. However, I think it is a classic mistake if Microsoft is trying to compete with open source using free. The advantage with the LAMP stck is that the entire stack is open sourced, which means that you have the source code available and you can customize it to the any extent you want. This open source stack has built not only a user-base, but also a community and an economy around it. All this not only because it is free of charge, but more because of freedom and the technical merit.
Students who are trying to quickly get things done are going to find many more off-the-shelf products in the open source world, which usually ends up selecting the tools you use. Students who are trying to really work the software are hardly going to be tempted by free software. For them technical merit and community would matter more.
One thing that this move will do for Microsoft is increase availability of the tools. But I think it will not be very easy to compete with many benefits of open source with one, if that is the intention. It might turn out to be good for the products as they can get great feedback from their new users. And it might also result in some good case studies where they get applied where they are suitable. But I doubt this can be a competition at all. As an aside, this announcement might pave a new way of piracy across the globe. And that, I am sure, is a lot worse than going the open source way.