Autodesk entices schools and students with free, renewable three-year licenses

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Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt—it breeds content. That’s the argument Autodesk made Monday, with its decision to make its products free to students and schools around the world.

Autodesk’s education portal offers few limitations. Students can sign up for a three-year license, and then additional three-year licenses, provided they still have access to an academic email address to prove that they’re enrolled. An Autodesk spokesman said that’s been the case for some time, as the company provided access to its portfolio for “home use."

What’s different, however, is that Autodesk is now offering institutions the same free access. Not only will instructors and staff be able to use AutoCAD, for example, in their design classes, but their departments won’t be charged for their use. Meanwhile, students from elementary schools and high schools will be able to use all of Autodesk’s products through college and beyond.

“What usually happens is that a student will sign up in their senior year so that their license will extend beyond graduation,” the Autodesk spokesman said. Users can sign up for individual product licenses, but they most commonly sign up for product suites, he said.

In all, Autodesk estimated that 80 million students and educators from over 800,000 secondary and post-secondary schools in 188 countries will be able to take advantage of the free offer. 

“The way we make things is changing rapidly, and we need a workforce ready to design for new manufacturing and construction techniques,” Carl Bass, chief executive of Autodesk, in a statement. “By providing free professional design tools to students, faculty members and academic institutions around the world, we’re helping get industry ready for the next phase.”

Of course, once a student has graduated and has been hired by an employer, the free license stops—and Autodesk starts receiving a return on its investment. A single perpetual license to Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite Ultimate, with 3ds Max, Maya, and Softimage all included, will cost $7,915 for a U.S. customer, beginning in Feb. 2015, according to the Autodesk Web site. 

Why this matters: By encouraging artists, designers, and other creatives to learn the ins and outs of Autodesk’s products, the company can encourage users to become familiar with Autodesk’s interface—and, well, ultimately hook them. That’s the same strategy that helped Zilog’s Z80 microprocessor dominate the embedded microcontroller market during the 1970s and 1980s, and the reason that Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, and others offer their own discounts to students. 

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