Last week, I asked for your input about software that simulates the experience of using Windows 2000 so that you can prepare for Win2K certification exams without installing Win2K. The only response I received about this issue pointed out that most people should have Win2K as part of a TechNet or MSDN subscription, leaving no need for simulation software. I won't debate whether running Win2K on a home machine provides sufficient experience. However, I'm still interested in whether you think software that simulates the multi-level domain or Active Directory (AD) experience can fill the bill.

More people informed me, both on the Windows 2000 Magazine Web site feedback form and through private email, that I had once again made a mistake. Last week, I mentioned a discounted MSDN Universal subscription price of $500 for Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs). Wishful thinking, perhaps. In fact, the benefit is a $500 REBATE. I hate rebates! I always think a company that offers a rebate hopes that people won't bother sending in all the paperwork to claim it. If not, why doesn't the company simply discount the original price? Readers also informed me that other ways of getting this same rebate are available for anyone who reads the Microsoft Web site closely enough, so the rebate isn't that big of a deal after all.

Another comment on the feedback site mentioned that all MCPs should be familiar with all the benefits I described last week because information about these benefits is available in the welcome pack that Microsoft sends new MCPs. New MCPs might be aware of the benefits, but for many people who've been certified for a while, the benefits can be real news. For example, the MSDN rebate is a recent addition to the list of benefits. So I mention these benefits as a reminder to people who might have overlooked them, but also as a heads-up to people who haven't received a welcome pack—perhaps because they aren't certified yet.

Microsoft expects the MCP and other certification-related private Web sites to be the main source of ongoing program information for most certified professionals. (How else could Microsoft disperse information to the tens of thousands of certified individuals who need to stay abreast of program details?) Unfortunately, in my experience the sites aren't the source of information Microsoft intends them to be. I know many long-time Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCTs) who are unaware of these sites and seem quite surprised when I mention the source of some of my information. I believe that Microsoft has every right to expect us to refer to the sites regularly, but I think we all need occasional reminding.

As I said at the beginning of this column, I'm still very interested in your thoughts about using simulation programs as a way of getting hands-on experience without actually having access to an enterprise-level Win2K installation. In particular, what experiences do you think would be impossible to achieve with such software? Here's one more chance to give me feedback. Post your thoughts as a Reader Comment.