One of the great strengths of the Java community is the quality of the free (as in both speech and beer) development environments, Eclipse and NetBeans. Although Microsoft let you have the .NET SDK for free (as in beer), there was no free IDE. Until now.
It appears that Microsoft is releasing the Beta for Visual Studio 2005 Express for free, and is at least considering it for the real release. This is a major step forward for Microsoft.
Over the last couple of years, Microsoft has started to make a play for developer mind-share again. While it has always had a very strong corporate developer presence, it’s penetration into the open-source and hobbyist markets, where a lot of innovative products come from, has left something to be desired. Besides the obvious political problems, the fact of the matter is that Visual Studio cost too damn much for hobbyist use. Looks like that’s about to change.
In the Java space, having quality free IDEs means that the commercial IDEs have to really lift their game to compete. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the .NET IDE space (which is larger than just Microsoft).