When you think of Microsoft, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Expensive software maybe? The much-hated BSOD? Or the nightmare called Windows 8? It might take you a little longer to think of something positive. We’re here to help with that.
Microsoft does some really awesome stuff and they share some of it for free.
In 2009, Microsoft initiated an employee innovation programme called The Garage. The motto: Do epic s**t!
At The Garage, Microsoft employees share ideas with colleagues and turn them into real projects; all during their free time.
The Garage is where ideas at Microsoft can go when they’re a bit messy, a bit not-quite-figured-out and in need of a few people to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Any employee of Microsoft can bring an idea to The Garage. There they will find a community of over 2,300 people, each eager to look at, comment on and sometimes even contribute to making it a reality.
Source: Microsoft, 2011
In 2011, The Garage received a large new home on Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington campus. The new location provides space for their Science Fair, an event where teams can show off their work to fellow Microsoft employees.
Projects that originated at The Microsoft Garage include OfficeTalk, a micro-blogging style communication tool for Windows Server 2008, the Conversation Translator Add-In for Microsoft Lync 2010, and Mouse without Borders, a tool that allows you to control up to four computers from a single mouse and keyboard.
More recently, Microsoft has announced they’re planning to open The Garage and work with consumers to receive feedback. Meanwhile, they have developed a range of free apps, available from The Garage’s Workbench, including lockscreens, games, and useful tools for Android, Windows, and Windows Phone.
Microsoft Research is a computer science research organization, employing 1,000 scientists and engineers, who do work in over 500 areas of research. The tools that originate from these research projects tend to be polished and highly functional; some, like AutoCollage, a tool to blend multiple photo into a seamless collage, only offer a free trial.
Most tools, however, are free, for example Socl, a website where you easily create collages to express ideas and share them on social networks, Photosynth, a tool to capture and view the world in 3-D, TouchDevelop, a cross-platform, web-based programming environment, or AutoCollage, or ChronoZoom, a web-based tool for teachers and students to visualize the history of everything.
If you’re seeking for opportunities to upgrade your computer and IT skills, have a look into the Microsoft Virtual Academy. It works much like Coursera and other MOOCs (massive open online courses), only that the courses have a strict focus on IT, and naturally many of them revolve around Microsoft products.
All courses are free, you can search them by topic or product, and by changing your location in the top right, you can access courses in different languages. Selected courses are delivered live, but remain available to be streamed or downloaded and watched at your leisure, no sign-in required. When you do sign in using your Microsoft account, you can register for upcoming courses, add courses to your learning plan, and track your progress.
Here is an interesting Q&A series on open source software (OSS).
Not only can you try Windows 10 Technical Preview for free, you can also get evaluation copies of other Microsoft operating systems. In its TechNet Evaluation Center, Microsoft currently offers free 90 day Windows evaluation copies of Windows 8.1 Enterprise, Windows 8 Enterprise, and Windows 7 Enterprise.
To download an ISO, you need to sign in with your Microsoft account and register for the version you want to download. Microsoft wants to know your name, purpose for downloading an evaluation copy, what operating system you are currently running, what version (32- or 64-bit) you would like to download, your current location, and your primary professional role. Under the expandable sub-headers Explore, Try, and Learn, you will find information and resources for the respective OS, including lectures from the Microsoft Virtual Academy.
When you run into issues with your Windows computer, you can use online resources to troubleshoot issues, like Microsoft’s Fix it Solution Center (our Fix It review), ask questions on support forums, including Microsoft’s own Support Community, or you can ask your friends.
If your issue is software-related and you live near a Microsoft store, there’s a much better alternative. Instead of breaking your head, Lifehacker recommends you take your machine to a Microsoft store:
You can get tech support, diagnostics, virus removal, and tune-ups for free at any Microsoft Store.
What Is Your Favorite Free Microsoft Service?
Microsoft has made a lot of apps and services available for free, including Office products and mobile apps like the photo sharing tool Xim. Which free Microsoft products do you use and do you have a favorite?