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Say Hello to Another "New and Improved" MCSE Program

Microsoft is shaking up its certification programs, introducing the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) program, and promising revisions to its developer programs. Learn about the new MCSA program and what's been said about changes to developer certifications. Also, explore the pros and cons of taking Windows 2000 certification exams sooner versus waiting to take Windows XP/Server .NET exams later.

On Friday, August 24, 2001, I caught a snapshot of smiling representatives from Compaq, IBM, and Gateway clambering into a helicopter, clutching precious RTM ("release to manufacturing") copies of Windows XP Home and Professional for use within their respective organizations. Aside from the hoopla, and some well-earned accolades for actually nailing a deadline they'd published many months ago, Microsoft is gearing up to add several new exams into its MCSE line-up. These exams are in anticipation of the commercial release of Windows XP Professional and Windows Server .NET. As these new Microsoft platforms make their way into the marketplace, we'll all be hearing more about them on the Microsoft certification front, as well as most other fronts you can imagine.

To begin, exam 70-270 "Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows XP Professional," is already on the docket. It went through beta test in the second half of September (September 25 through October 1, 2001), and should be available "for real" within days or weeks of when Windows XP Professional officially ships on October 25, 2001.

Microsoft has announced three other new MCSE Core Exams — without yet divulging too many additional details:

  • 70-275 — Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows .NET Server (available in 2002)

  • 70-276 — Implementing and Administering a Microsoft Windows .NET Server Network Infrastructure (available in 2002)

  • 70-277 — Implementing and Administering a Microsoft Windows .NET Server Directory Services Infrastructure (available in 2002)

Presumably, these new exams will have a lot in common with their Windows 2000 predecessors, retooled for the new server platform. Changes from the 70-210 to 70-270 exams are fairly minor, with most changes focusing on new features and functions. I bet the differences between the other Windows 2000 and .NET Server core elements will exhibit similar differences.

In fact, I expect the release of Windows XP to make way for still more product and certification announcements, eventually including updates to the Core Design Exams (70-219, 70-220, 70-221, and 70-226) and to existing electives, as well as for a slate of new electives built around the .NET platform and related BackOffice components. The next year should be a very interesting one for those of us who must follow Microsoft's certification programs, including those still in the process of updating their MCSE's from Windows NT 4.0 to newer versions.

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Once individuals pursuing a new MCSE or updating an existing one hear that Microsoft is introducing new exams, serious concern (if not outright panic) usually follows. Think something along the lines of, "Wait! I'm not finished with the Windows 2000 exams yet, and you're telling me there's a new slate of exams for Windows XP Professional and Windows Server .NET already on the way?" But this is one case where it's possible to dispel such concerns by stating right off the bat that Microsoft plans to keep both Windows 2000 and Windows XP/Server .NET exams alive in parallel. They've also stated in so many words that certification candidates can mix and match exams from both tracks without worrying too much about which exams will be retired first.

Any time Microsoft acts reasonable you can be sure there are some good reasons for such unexpected behavior. In fact, you'll find the section of the MCSE FAQ entitled "Frequently Asked Questions about Windows XP Professional and Windows .NET Server Exams," which contains absolutely fascinating reading in this regard. Reading some logic from the tea leaves showing on this and other pages on their Web site, I have inferred certain forces driving what's really going on here. In my opinion, this sudden attack of reasonableness stems from the following facts:

  • Current trends in the community of over 300,000 pre-Windows 2000 MCSE's indicate that only about one-third of them will actually update their certifications on or before the 12/31/2001 expiration date for those credentials. Microsoft does not want to rock this boat unduly, and wants to keep its numbers up by encouraging the current MCSE's to update their credentials soon.

  • Many companies and organizations are just now getting into full swing on their migration from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000. They don't want to even think about upgrading again for at least another 18 to 24 months, if not longer. This means that most practicing IT professionals should concentrate their certifications on Windows 2000, because that's far more likely to be what they'll use in the workplace.

  • Microsoft is still pretty mum about exactly when the remaining 70-27x exams will be released (the other three members of the new "Core Four" so to speak). In the FAQ, they themselves recommend that MCSE's — already in the process of updating their credentials — stick to Windows 2000 topics, because those exams are already available. To that, I'd like to add that they're not only available, but that it's also possible to find good materials such as detailed study guides, exam crams, and practice tests for all these topics. Even after Microsoft releases new exams, it takes 3 to 6 months for the market to catch up with the kinds of exam preparation tools that most people want to help them get ready for these exams.

In a nutshell, Microsoft is not above making a virtue of necessity any more than the rest of us. I'm convinced that the foregoing facts explain why Microsoft plans to keep Windows 2000 exams and certifications alive for some time to come. This also explains why they've decided to let people pick and choose exams from either track to meet MCSE certification requirements.

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