At the end of 2000, Microsoft extended the deadline for Windows NT 4.0 certification exams from December 31, 2000, to February 28, 2001. The company intended the 2-month extension to eliminate a scheduling nightmare for MCSE candidates who found testing centers booked around the clock through the end of 2000. I spoke with Robert Stewart, Microsoft's general manager of training and certification, and Anne Marie McSweeney, Microsoft's acting director of certification skills and assessment, about the extension.

"We found that the testing centers that are offering the exams were literally getting booked 100 percent and, in some cases, staying open to midnight each day to satisfy the demand," Stewart said. "In the spirit of customer satisfaction, we decided to extend the dates through the end of February."

Stewart also noted that since March 2000, the demand for Windows 2000 certifications has surpassed the demand for NT 4.0 certifications. Microsoft's Windows certifications' primary purpose is to ensure that the people who plan and deploy corporate Windows rollouts have the necessary knowledge and skill. Four years after the release of NT 4.0, few corporations are likely to roll out new NT 4.0 networks, and the NT 4.0 MCSE certification's retirement at the end of 2001 reflects this trend. However, many companies already use NT 4.0 and will continue to do so. Therefore, Microsoft is creating a new exam that reflects the way customers currently use the OS. McSweeney said that a beta release of the new exam, which will be an elective for Win2K-based certifications, would be available in March 2000.

"We need a certification that is relevant for our users and partners," McSweeney attested. "So we're creating a new certification exam that tests skills about NT 4.0 in the real world today. It's a brand-new exam, with a bit of Windows 2000 migration flavor. And it's also an elective of the new MSCE certification track for Windows 2000."

Microsoft also has some good news for MCSEs concerned about Whistler, the next version of Win2K. Many administrators worry that Whistler's arrival, which is scheduled for late 2001, will initiate a new round of certifications as well as the retirement of the Win2K certification. But McSweeney said that Whistler exams will be interchangeable with Win2K exams, so MCSE candidates will be able to mix and match exams to obtain their certification. "Customers who pass Windows 2000 \[exams\] will not be required to upgrade to Whistler," McSweeney stated. "Whistler is in the Windows 2000 family; it's the same generation. So we're encouraging people to do \[Windows\] 2000 and not skip a version and wait for Whistler."

The evolution of the Microsoft certifications has a definite purpose, according to Stewart. "We look at how we can make the certification valuable," he explained. "What skills and attributes are hiring managers looking for? They want people that can keep pace with technology. The new certifications reflect that." For the latest news about Microsoft's certification programs, visit http://www.microsoft.com/trainingandservices.