Microsoft announced today that the Visual Studio Express products will be available for free download for one year. They were originally supposed to be $49 each, but now you can download them all completely free. The express versions have their limitations, of course, but it’s very hard to argue with free.

Before they announced that the express versions would be free, I was thinking about getting Visual Studio Standard for $299. However, that’s a pretty sizable amount of money for me these days, so even though it has extra features that would certainly be useful, there’s no way I’m spending that much unless I run into a total brick wall with the express versions.

While I’ll definitely be downloading a few of the express packages, at this point I think I’ll probably use them with MySQL 5 as opposed to SQL Server Express. My machine at home is pretty slow and I think one database system is plenty for me until I upgrade to a newer machine.

I think Microsoft has a long way to go to gain back market share they’ve lost to Java, PHP, and (lately) Ruby on Rails, but at least this seems like a reasonable first step in the right direction.