While Google’s App Engine is basically free for users (up to quota limits), it has significant constraints in development languages supported (Python and soon Java) and indeed requires writing code. Amazon Web Services do not require specific languages and can even run existing applications (there are limitations of course). But, you have to pay.
Until now. Amazon is offering free service usage to education customers for teaching and research. See http://aws.amazon.com/education/ for more detail. In truth, it’s not actually free — it’s just a grant for up to $100 per teacher or student.
In my opinion, this is a smart move for Amazon, as it has been for Google to offer free service (and in Google’s case: not limited to education). It should generate a larger set of future paying users / developers trained on using AWS services, building demand. Over time, enterprises will hire (or educate) more developers on using cloud services like Amazon’s. And, as usual with other product lines, vendors who hook you in school can win your business when you go to work. This should also generate more case examples of real projects running on top of the services. With education under budget pressure itself, this should be attractive. In fact, Amazon’s site notes that Maryland and Harvard already have courses designed to teach cloud computing using AWS services.
Now that things are free, I’d expect to see more.