Microsoft has announced a programme to give start-ups free software and support as a way to try and guarantee future revenue from the companies.

"BizSpark" is a project open to private companies that have been in business for less than 3 years with less than $1 million in annual revenue.

Companies that qualify will get a 3-year subscription to the Microsoft Developer Network as well as cloud services technologies - for which they will have to pay Microsoft £62 after 3 years is up.

"We're building a customer base for the future", said Microsoft's Dan'l Lewin.

"The rising tide of people building new companies, building successful companies using our product is good for us because we share in that over time. The goal is to remove any barriers to getting going."