The Free Microsoft Visual Studio Dev Essentials Tools Explained

Gone are the days where you needed to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars to start developing hardcore applications. The evolution of trial versions to light versions has come to the point where there are now robust suites of development tools that are readily available from both open source markets as well as proprietary businesses.

In the arena for targeting Microsoft platforms including Windows, there have long been Express versions of Visual Studio that could help you focus on a specific platform such as the Web, mobile, or Windows. This past year or so, Microsoft shifted from the Express editions to a Community Edition that provided more functionally in a single product.

At the Microsoft Connect(); developer event this week, Microsoft has gone even farther by announcing Microsoft Visual Studio Dev Essentials, which goes farther still.

What Is the Visual Studio Dev Essentials Program?

The Microsoft Visual Studio Dev Essentials program is aimed to give developers the tools they need to target any platform including mobile, desktop, or the Cloud as well as target any device. This includes developers targeting iOS, Android, Windows, Azure, Machine Learning, IoT, Node.js, Python, and ASP.NET.

The program provides access not only to the Visual Studio Community Edition development environment and Visual Studio Code (for Mac, Linux, and Windows), but also has added additional benefits including other tools, cloud services, training, and coaching. These benefits include:

  • Visual Studio Team Services (formally called Visual Studio Online) for up to five users for free
  • Azure monthly credits of $25 US (coming next year)
  • Windows Platform VM (60-day trial)
  • Parallels Desktop Pro Edition for Mac (three-month subscription)
  • Parallels Access (three-month subscription)
  • Pluralsight training (three-month access to full catalog—six months for a limited time)
  • Wintellect training (three-month subscription to full catalog)
  • Xamarin University training (independently, Xamarin offers a free version of their tools as well)
  • Microsoft Virtual Academy training (this is free already)
  • HackHands $25 credit
  • MSDN priority support in the forums. (Microsoft will respond if community doesn’t within 48 hours)

To get access to this program, you’ll need to sign up with Microsoft using your name and email address. You can do this at:

Once you’ve signed up, you’ll gain access to a portal at You’ll find the portal gives you the ability to easily access the benefits. The benefits are grouped on the page so you can easily search through them. It is important to note that none of the benefits are activated by default. This means that you can choose when to start the use of some of the time limited benefits such as the three-month subscriptions to the various training courses.

Parting Thoughts

 The major players in the tech industry continue to provide better tools to build for the various platforms, and Microsoft is no exception. The reality is that Microsoft has provided many of these benefits in the past. Regardless, with the Dev Essentials program, they’ve packaged them together nicely and made it easy to access.

Ultimately, developers are winning by getting free developer products. Even though, long term you’ll likely want to get the fullest versions of the tools, for someone starting out or without a lot of revenue to support licensing fees, these programs make it easy to get started without having to violate (aka, steal) licenses to products. In the end, these programs of free or reduced tools serve the companies offering them as well. For Microsoft, I’m sure they expect that you’ll be targeting their platforms and services ins some of what you build. If you do, they will recoup the cost from the people spending money Windows, Azure, and their other products.

In the short term, developers win; however, ultimately, everybody wins. Everybody winning is a good thing!

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