Have you ever visited Oracle's, Microsoft's or IBM’s web site? They offer the same functionality: software downloads. If I want to learn more about Oracles’, Microsoft’s or other vendors’ portfolio, I can download it and: I can start coding. Downloading software and trying it out, learning it, adding a skill to my CV: no problem at all.
Look at Oracles download site:
“All software downloads are free, and most come with a Developer License that allows you to use full versions of the products at no charge while developing and prototyping your applications, or for strictly self-educational purposes.”
From Microsoft you can download the Express Editions of their software, even Sharepoint is free. Want to learn C++, C#, Windows Phone development with the SDKs Visual Studio, Visual Studio C++, SQL Server? Together with a DB and some accelerators like Emulators? All there, even whole DVD images that contain all you need to get started.
“Everything you need to develop apps for Windows Phone 7 for FREE including Expression Blend 4 for Windows Phone, Visual Studio 2010 for Windows Phone Express, XNA Game Studio and the Windows Phone emulator.”
You are more interested in Open Source software? Open Source Projects offer their source code and most of them also binaries for download. If you want to play around with a database , a column oriented DB, Java application server, servlet container, BI, ETL, system monitoring, functional testing, mobility: all can be downloaded, installed and tried out in minutes.
Developing mobile apps for Blackberry? No need to buy a BB or BES: all free for download. If you are more into Android or iOS development, also not a problem (iOS more a problem as you need a Mac to develop). SDKs, emulators, images, all available for everyone. Oracle even gives you special developer VMs:
For Java developers the developer VM contains a source control and a continuous integration system, and DB developers can experiment with their TimesTen In-Memory DB cache.
Yes, you can download software from SAP, you can try it out, use it to learn, develop. BUT: compared to the other vendors, why is making SAP this so hard and is only offering a very limited subset of their portfolio? You cannot even download the latest NWDS without having an S-User. Evaluating SAP’s Java VM? Trying out their Java application server? Their ESB? The web dispatcher? Downloading the newest version of SAPGui demands that you have access to the service market place (in the “good old times” it was at least possible to download SAPGui for Java from their FTP server). When you are lucky you need an S-User with download permission. If SAP is gracious to let you download a trial, you still have to register, getting a license, renew the license, and sometimes the license simply expires with no option to renew.
Currently you can download NetWeaver for ABAP and Java, but not the newest versions. NetWeaver Java is only available as 7.00, no EHP1, EHP2, and no sign of NetWeaver 7.3. That means: with the current SAP Portal version available for download you need Internet Explorer 6 or a really old Firefox version to be able to access the portal without errors. If you want to learn NetWeaver 7.3, gain knowledge about the new SAP Portal, see what Web Dynpro Java offers in the new version: the only way is to have access to a 7.3 at work or at your office. You cannot install 7.3 on your laptop to try it out, to keep your skills updated or even to show your colleagues, client, and managers that the new version offers the solution to an ongoing problem. Want to use the snapshot option of your VM to just “try it out to see if it solves the problem”? Not an option. This implies that every of you ideas have to enter the normal development and configuration process. And that means that your idea will just be that: an idea, unrealized.
The download section at SCN offers a small selection of software SAP has in its portfolio. It’s easier to find someone that had the chance to learn ABAP and Java using this software than someone that know how to apply a SPS, EHP, or knows GRC or PI. Having hands-on knowledge on a product is crucial; this is what at the end decides between a project failure and success. How to staff a team whose only chance to learn a product is by learning by doing? Want to build your own sandbox landscape, virtualized on your laptop? Consisting of ECC EHPx, SolMan, GRC, Portal, PI, BPM, PO, Gateway, SUP? You cannot.