Looking to win over the next generation of software developers by getting more students using its software tools, Microsoft will be giving away some of its applications in an initiative called DreamSpark. Starting this week, college students in 10 countries will be able to get Microsoft’s Visual Studio and several other programs for free.

Specifically, students will be able to get free access to Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition, Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, Microsoft Expression Web design tools, XNA Game Studio for developing Xbox 360 software, and even Windows Server and the developer version of the SQL Server database. The program is expected to be expanded over the next year to college and high school students as well, reaching some 1 billion students worldwide.

Perhaps Microsoft is feeling the fear of losing ground if other software development tools, such as cheaper open-source ones, make inroads in universities. Whatever the reasoning behind the initiative is, students will certainly benefit from access to the free software.