Microsoft DreamSpark logoHi folks!

This time I decided to write an article which will be extremely useful for some students. It’s a well-known fact that many people, especially art-oriented people, are using Apple products (Mac Pro, MacBook Pro or Air, etc.) which are sold with their own Mac OS X, however, there are quite a lot of people who are using the PC platform and are forced to buy such essential software as Operating Systems. Although I have been taking advantages of the Microsoft’s DreamSpark program for the last two years, it recently became apparent to me that quite a lot of PC-oriented students are unaware of it. One reason for that could be that information about Microsoft’s MSDNAA is so not on the front page of your educational institution. Now, let’s see how you can get your copy of Windows 7 Professional (or 8, or XP) legally and absolutely for free.

Here I’m going to show you the whole process on the example of the ZHdK (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste) but it should be the same no matter where you are studying. First of all, you have to make sure that your school or university has a valid DreamSpark (in the past – MSDNAA) subscription. Probably, the fastest way is to Google something like "MSDNAA name of your school here" and you will get the direct login page within the first two search results. However, another way is to go dreamspark.com, type the name of the university into the search field (in this case ZHdK)

and click on the right result and then on Visit the WebStore

After confirming that we understand being redirected to another site by pressing Continue we are landing on the actual DreamSpark WebStore page.

Now we have to register and finally sign in so we click on Sign In in the right upper part of the page.

This will redirect you to another portal which is used strictly for authentication purpose. You may also see a warning from the browser (especially if using Google Chrome) about being redirected to another domain with the self-signed certificate but it can safely be disregarded by pressing "continue anyway". Now, we again select our school from the drop-down menu.

On the following page we enter our usual login information that we use to log into university’s website/mailbox and to grab free Wi-Fi Internet. In ZHdK’s case it’s a login with an @login.itz at the end.

Sometimes, however, if you received separate login info for the Dreamspark from your school, you will not be redirected and will enter your login and password without leaving the page.

Once you confirmed your details and signed in feel free to browse through the store and choose the software you would like to get. Take into account that besides being able to get Windows XP/7/8 (or even Windows 8.1 Pro Preview, a prerelease version of Windows 8.1) you can also get things like Windows Server 2008/2012 R2 and other expensive professional development tools also for free. However, you will notice that common MS Office components, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook cannot be found. That’s right, Microsoft thinks that you should buy those yourself, however it offers for free such things (right now, while I’m writing this) as: Access 2013 (Oh, that’s nice!), Microsoft Project Professional 2013, OneNote 2013, Lync 2013, InfoPath 2013 and even some high-profile applications like Microsoft Project Server 2013, SharePoint Server 2013, Exchange Server 2013, Lync Server 2013 so people studying (or just interested) in IT can try all these products without having to get the keys illegally. Also 2007’s and 2010’s Office products are available, a few of listed above and some like Microsoft Office Visio, Groove, etc.

Anyway, when you’ve decided what you want to get your hands on first, add these products to the cart buy clicking on the name/image of the software and then on Add To Cart.

Since most of the operating systems are provided in many different languages, pay attention which one you are adding. After you put all you wanted into the cart (here I chose Windows 8.1 and Microsoft SQL Server 2014 CTP1) press Shopping Cart in the upper right part of the page and then Check Out.

On the next page we have to accept DreamSpark EULA by clicking “I Accept” below the text of the agreement. Then, make sure your name and email address are correct and click on “Proceed With Order”.

That’s it! Note that the installation key (in red) for your Windows 8.1 copy has already been issued. Now you are ready to download your ISO images.

N.B.: Do not get misguided by the Extended Access Guarantee (24 months) note. It does not mean that your keys/licenses will expire after 24 months. DreamSpark licenses are equivalent to retail licenses. They do not expire. Extended Access means that you have guaranteed access to the keys and ISO images (and you can download them as many times as you want) for the period of 24 months. It does not, however, apply to the licenses which are meant to be temporary. In our case, it is the most likely scenario that the Windows 8.1 Professional Preview will be replaced with the Windows 8.1 Final Release when available, which makes perfect sense.

Clicking on “Start Download” will take you to the next page where you have to download Secure Download Manager, so click on Download SDM. Install it and then on the same webpage click on Download .SDX.

Save the file in the location you can easily find later, and open it. It will be opened in Secure Download Manager and is a key for the download location. Now choose where you want to download the files and click on Start Download.

That’s all, when the download is finished you can burn it to a DVD-R or flash drive, however, I would advise to use a rewritable media (for example, DVD±RW) to test the burned image. Strangely enough (unlike while downloading from the Volume Licensing Service Center) Microsoft SDM does not provide the integrity check for the downloaded images but experience shows that ISO files sometimes turn out to be broken, even though it only becomes clear when the installation process already started and you get the error message about missing files (as funny as it is, most of the time it is a DVD-ROM driver which cannot be found). So, by using a rewritable media you will be able to easily download a new image and burn it onto the same DVD. Keys and ISOs for ordered products can later be found under Your Account/Orders link.

Well, that’s all! I hope some of you have discovered a nice and legal way of getting your software for free. In my opinion, Microsoft is doing the right thing by allowing schools and universities to acquire the Dreamspark subscription, thus, allowing students to get professional development and designer tools at no cost, and at the same time fighting piracy. However, I wish other professional software companies like Avid and Steinberg would develop such a scheme. Yes, we all benefit from the special academic/student prices for Cubase and Pro Tools but even those might be a bit of a problem for a student’s pocket. Will this ever change? Only time will tell.

Previous Facebook comments

  1. Badhon Sahawill this products work after graduation or expiration of account?
    • Stas SagdeyevYes, as mentioned in the article, DreamSpark licenses are equivalent to retail licenses and they do not expire.
      • Frank FergusonNO! The software keeps track of your grades. When u graduate, the software will self destruct. Make sure you are not in the same room when this happens!
  2. Callum LockettWhat if your school or organization has never subcribed to Dreamspark. This article is pointless then. Isnt it?
    • Stas SagdeyevYes, that's correct.
  3. Adam Stamboulid Is the Microsoft Windows Embedded 8.1 Industry Pro version any worse than a normal retail version?
  4. Barbra Streusandhi i am out of academic school for some years an NO this software keys don´t get ever INVALIID--- so grab iso´s and all stufff you need and be happy that you have the files (iso and serial) and this is lifetime valid. cheers
  5. Barbra Streusandbut- i am searching for an active MSDNAA account. if you are able to get a login account. may you send me one
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