Microsoft Corporation announced its plans this week for the Windows 2000 Certification track for Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSEs), which includes the retiring of the Windows NT 4.0 exams by the end of 2000. The MCSE program is designed to provide members with the skills and credentials they need to design, develop, and maintain Windows 2000-based networks of any size. The Windows 2000 track focuses on troubleshooting skills, security, and network or directory infrastructure.

"The Windows 2000 track for MCSEs is a premier certification intended for IT professionals who work in a typically complex computing environment and possess a high level of real-world experience," says Donna Senko, the director of certification and skills assessment at Microsoft. "In the past year, Microsoft has raised its certification standards by pioneering new testing innovations that add greater value to Microsoft certification. These efforts include product simulations, ongoing exam updates, adaptive testing, increased security at testing centers and a revised retake policy. Microsoft is leading in this initiative with the Windows 2000 certification track and remains committed to keeping the Microsoft certification the most sought-after and respected in the industry."

MCSE candidates will need to pass five core exams and two electives. Required core exams include "Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional," "Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Server," "Implementing and Administering a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure," and "Implementing and Administering a Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure." Candidates must also choose one of the following core exams: "Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure," "Designing Security for a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network," or "Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure." For the electives, candidates can choose any two of the following: "Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure," "Designing Security for a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network, "Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure," "Upgrading from Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 to Microsoft Windows 2000," or any of the current MCSE electives that are not currently scheduled for retirement. A full list of electives can be found on the MCSE Web site.

The cottage industry surrounding Microsoft certification is, of course, based on exam preparation and there are numerous ways that interested parties can do so. Microsoft Certified Technical Education Centers (CTECs), Authorized Academic Training Programs (AATPs) and independent courseware vendors offer a variety of training programs, including self-study, online, and trainer-led programs of various lengths and costs. And of course the ubiquitous Microsoft Certification training section at the local Borders or Barnes & Nobles is sure to be inundated with Windows 2000 titles in the near future for you self-starters.

The Microsoft certification process is complicated, of course. And with the Windows 2000 exams, the bar has been raised significantly, perhaps in an attempt to make these certifications a bit more meaningful. A good starting point, however, is the Microsoft Training & Certification Web site, where you can learn about all of the company's certifications, including the MCSE, MCP, MCSD, and more