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10 free Microsoft products for IT and home users

Despite billions in licensing revenue, Microsoft gives many products away for free

By , Network World
November 17, 2010 09:17 AM ET

Network World - Microsoft doesn't earn billions of dollars every month by giving away its software. But even Microsoft is no stranger to offering freebies in a bid to increase customer loyalty.

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There was CEO Steve Ballmer handing out new Windows Phone 7 devices to every developer at the recent Professional Developers Conference at Microsoft headquarters – and all 89,000 Microsoft employees will get their own free Windows phone. (See also Microsoft Windows after 25 years: A visual history

But you don't have to trek all the way to Redmond or work for Microsoft to take advantage of free technologies from one of the world's largest software companies. Let's take a look at some of the free Microsoft products that might appeal to IT pros, business users and consumers alike.

Security Essentials

Microsoft's free anti-malware product for Windows PCs was first released in September 2009, and Microsoft recently altered the licensing agreement to let small businesses run Security Essentials on up to 10 computers. Microsoft also offers EMET (Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit), a free download that can harden legacy applications and generally make it more difficult for attackers to exploit software vulnerabilities.

Network Access Protection

This "free, basic NAC for Windows-only shops" is included with Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008. "Features are relatively primitive," according to Network World tester Joel Snyder, who says "Microsoft NAP will work best in an all-Microsoft operating system environment where all devices are joined to a Windows domain."

Windows Phone 7 development tools

To prepare for the WP7 smartphone launch, Microsoft released free versions of development tools Visual Studio 2010, Silverlight 4 and Expression Blend 4 to help developers build apps for the new mobile devices. While the phones themselves are definitely not free, there are numerous examples of Microsoft offering free development tools. The main .Net Framework and related Silverlight platform are free, and Microsoft offers a free "Express" version of Visual Studio.

Office Web Apps

Microsoft's free online versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote launched this year when the company started offering Office Web Apps, a cloud-based consumer service. The free version of Office Web Apps is not intended for business use, but could be enticing to home users. However, some of the early reviews of Microsoft's cloud-based Office tools indicate that Google Apps is still superior.

Hyper-V

Microsoft's answer to VMware, the Hyper-V server virtualization platform is available for free, and also within new versions of Windows Server. Although most customers use Hyper-V to virtualize Windows, Microsoft has submitted source code to the Linux kernel to let Linux run on Microsoft’s hypervisor.

Windows Live Essentials

Designed to boost Windows PCs with several free programs, Windows Live Essentials includes a photo gallery, movie maker, instant messaging, e-mail and social networking. Also included is Live Writer for bloggers, and Live Mesh for syncing photos and documents between personal computers and the Microsoft SkyDrive cloud service.

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