Microsoft on Thursday launched its WebsiteSpark program, intended to encourage web developers to use the company’s tools and technologies.

Like the start-up-focused BizSpark, and the student and educational DreamSpark, WebsiteSpark gives small web design companies “no upfront cost” access to Microsoft tools and technologies for three years, with companies paying just US$100 to participate at the end of that period.

“We’re hoping to enrol agencies that have had little or no contact with Microsoft,” said William Coleman, WebsiteSpark lead for the UK.

Unlike BizSpark, which is restricted to new businesses building on Microsoft technologies, WebsiteSpark has a more open approach, and any design house with fewer than 10 employees is eligible, Coleman noted. “There’s a lot of trust in this,” he said, noting that the only commitment participants need to make is to deploy one website on Windows technologies within the first six months.

Taken separately, the tools in the program would cost a lot more than US$100 over three years. Companies get access to Microsoft’s web design and development tools, with three licences of Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, two of Microsoft Expression Web 3 and one of Microsoft Expression Studio 3.

The package also includes four production usage processor licences for Windows Web Server 2008 or R2 and for Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Web Edition (with three additional licences for internal testing), along with a third-party website control panel. There’s also hosting support, with Melbourne IT and Westnet providing Australian hosting services.

In addition to the tools, the program gives developers access to Microsoft’s marketing resources in the shape of access to its partner network and a new WebsiteSpark marketplace service. “We’re also working on localised lead-generation tools and services,” Coleman said.

“We’re aiming to foster a community among members,” he said, adding that he expects there to be ways for WebsiteSpark members to work together.

The official launch of WebSiteSpark in Australia will be at Web Directions South conference in Sydney on the 8th of October.’s Chris Duckett contributed to this story.