When you think about free tools, do you think about Microsoft? Lots of vendors provide free versions of their tools, with an upgrade path to pay. Some have an open source project that they maintain to provide value to their customers (or potential customers). Microsoft does all that and more.

Just poking around CodePlex, I found a number of remarkable projects run by Microsoft personnel and entirely free.

First on the list is the Microsoft All-in-One Code Framework. If you've ever wanted sample code for any Microsoft coding technology, it's in this framework. There are samples for ASP.NET, Silverlight, Azure, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), WinForms, Office development, security, Visual Studio extensibility—you name it. And it's still growing, as Microsoft folks continue to add examples based on user (read: your) suggestions.

Next, there's the AJAX control toolkit. This is a free collection of more than 40 ASP.NET controls that use AJAX for their updates. There are sample apps galore to experiment with AJAX and the controls that make it all work. A must-have project for people getting going on AJAX.

Silverlight is well represented on CodePlex with the Microsoft Silverlight Toolkit. This is a huge stack of free controls written for Silverlight that works with Silverlight in-browser, out-of-browser, and on Windows Phone 7. There are more advanced controls available from third parties, but you can't argue with the price for this collection of controls: They're all free.

I can't leave WPF out either. Wpf.codeplex.com is a set of WPF controls and tools for building WPF applications. This is a similar set of controls to the Silverlight and AJAX controls, and also includes a number of interesting tools for managing your WPF apps and understanding what they're up to.

Perhaps you're not a control junkie? Perhaps you're a C developer trying to write concurrent style applications? Microsoft has a project for you on CodePlex called VCC. This is a tool that Microsoft built for itself to verify the functionality of Hyper-V. It's an awesomely complex tool for doing assertions and validations of your most complex coding problems.

That's only five projects from CodePlex—there are thousands there. And that's only one website. There's also the code gallery with a whole other set of samples and code for developers to experiment with.

And no list of free tools from Microsoft would be complete without a call out to Visual Studio Express. A basic version of Visual Studio 2010 that is totally free. If you don't own a Pro edition, this is a must-have.


Richard Campbell is technical director for DevProConnections.