In a major—if penultimate—change to its developer program for Windows and Windows Phone, Microsoft this week dropped the annual registration fee from Windows Dev Center. Now, developers only have make a one-time registration payment of just $20 and they're granted lifetime registration and benefits.

And that's great. But why even bother with the $20? When you're trying to court developers who are busy chasing after the much bigger Android and iOS markets, maybe giving away entry into the developer program for free—as Microsoft already does for tools like Visual Studio Express and Windows App Studio—is the way go.

OK, enough commentary. Here's what's changed, and it's all for the better:

Dev Center target. Developers who wish to create Windows (Modern) and Windows Phone apps.

Lifetime Dev Center registration. Anyone who registers for Dev Center is now registered for life. Registration grants you the ability to submit apps to Microsoft for inclusion in the stores.

If you're in, you're in. If you're already one of the 600,000+ registered Dev Center developers, you will no longer need to pay any additional fees to maintain your account.

Three new Dev Center packages aimed at your experience level: Explorer, Expert, and Master.

Explorer. This is the entry-level offering aimed at those just getting ramped up, before publishing their first app. It provides app architecture consulting, app design consulting, and $25 in Windows Store gift cards (not for you, for promoting your app. (that last bit is US only right now.)

Expert. Once you've published an app, you can move up to Expert, which adds 1 million ad impressions with AdDuplex, access to Microsoft software via BizSpark, and a two-year publishing contract with AE Mobile.

Master. This level "unlocks VIP access" to priority publisher support, the Windows Platform Early Access program, and Store merchandising and promotions, Microsoft says. It's not clear what you need to do to qualify for this level.

You can find out more from the Windows Dev Center web site.