I'm not an XP hobbyist so I'd never had of Microsoft's free development tool suite. I came across them only because I was evaluating SQL Express 2005 for a small project. I knew about SE (first released 2005, doesn't run on Vista so unclear future), but I gradually realized Microsoft was packaging it as part of a "hobbyist" suite. A free hobbyist suite.
Visual Studio Express includes "hobbyist" editions of their web development environment, a robotics development toolkit, a game development suite, SQL Server 2005 (of course) and "hobbyist" editions of VB, VC#, VC++, VJ#. Not to mention a learning center.
Did I mention the free part?
The oddest thing, for me, is that none of this is new. These were all released at the end of 2005 as an experiment, but Microsoft made it unlimited in 2006. VS Express has a product manager with an active blog and it seems to have a future.
I suppose I need to get out more.
This fills an odd gap in the world of software development. In the 90s Borland (later Symantec) sold a wide range of programming tools accessible to the hobbyist or student. Many were used for small software products inside corporations. All of these tools are gone now, replaced by high-end, very expensive and very complex tools that are aimed at the professional market.
I suppose I should express my gratitude to Microsoft for this seeming act of enlightened generosity, but that would make my keyboard explode ...
PS. OS X development tools are free for everyone, and they're pretty accessible. No free database platform though ...