I know a lot of people develop plugins (or might like to) on Windows and over the next 2 months, Microsoft is giving away copies of Visual Studio 2005 to people who attend their VS launch events.
If you go to this link (http://www.msdnevents.com/launch/) (msdnevents.com) you can (hopefully) find an event that's near you. You have to attend the event, and stay til the end, but they'll hand everyone either the software (or more likely, a mail in voucher) for the software at the end when you leave and hand in your "how was it" survey. They also have some raffles for some cool stuff at the end. I've seen them give away dual processor computers, software (games as well as Windows, Office, etc), books, etc.... I won a stack of about 6 .NET books at the VisualStudio.NET launch...
The caveat in all this is that you will have to sign up for a microsoft passport, if you don't have one. But hey, free (legit) Visual Studio! I did some digging, and it's the Standard Edition, which normally sells for $299. It comes with Visual C++ (as well as C#, VB and J#). It does not come with support for compiling 64 bit applications, though, so if you're looking for that, you're out of luck. That requires the professional edition, which rings in at $799 SRP.
I've been using the Visual C++ Express Beta 2 for compiling Cinema plugins, and I have to say, it's not bad at all. I believe this will be hitting the stores around now (for around $50, I believe) so if you don't want the bloat of all the other MS tools, you may want to just pick that up. (but it doesn't have 64 bit support, either)
I'm not a microsoft fanboy or anything like that... their last programming tool I bought and/or liked was released about 7 years ago... but having taken an interest in Cinema plugins lately, this will be a great way to keep going. And it could help the mac coders out there so if they have a spare pc, they don't have to spend a few hundred dollars on a copy of visual studio.
Sign up for Visual Studio 2005 Launch (http://www.msdnevents.com/launch/)
Comparison Chart of Visual Studio 2005 Products (http://lab.msdn.microsoft.com/vs2005/productinfo/productline/default.aspx)
Product Information for Visual Studio 2005 Standard Edition (http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/products/vsstandard/default.aspx)
One last thing... you may want to check the locations today... the events have already started (as of today) and the ones where they give away free software (like this) tend to fill up pretty fast. It's a good idea to sign up right away.
Anyway... hope this helps... and if it does, when you make that next-gen killer plugin, remember who told you about the free visual studio 2005. ;-) Oh, and if anyone's going to the Memphis event, let me know and we'll meet up. :)