PALO ALTO, California: In a move cannily calculated to keep Microsoft in pole position through into the next generation of software developers, chairman Bill Gates yesterday launched a mutually philanthropic software giveaway.

Speaking Tuesday to students at Stanford University, the planet's richest inhabitant unveiled a plan to donate tools for software development and design to registered students, starting in the US, China, the UK and eight European countries.

Gates claimed that up to forty million maths and science students worldwide will eventually have access to the software, which includes Visual Studio (used to develop Windows-compatible programmes)  and Expressions, a design toolset.

But even a major philanthropist such as Gates offers few free lunches. 

Given that Microsoft's dominance of the software sector is gradually being eroded by open-source developers like Linux and Sun Microsystems -  and that serious incursions have been made by IBM and Adobe into its former university computer science fiefdoms – Gates' munificence is intended to generate a significant quid pro quo. 

Namely that students familiar with – and predisposed toward – Microsoft products will become brand groupies, prone to use the company's software development tools in their future careers.

The firm's legion of 'independent' developers is seen as its sharpest competitive edge, reinforcing Windows' position as the predominant desktop computing platform and a major contributor to its expanding use on servers.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff