As of January 1, 2001, the Microsoft Certified Solution Provider (MCSP) program was no more. In its place stands the Microsoft Solutions Partner program, a Microsoft affiliate program for which participants pay about the same money and receive about the same benefits as they did for the MCSP program. The term "partner" implies an integrated relationship between Microsoft and participants, and, of course, the new name means a new logo.

In contrast, the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) program remains outwardly unchanged. Microsoft has presented no new logo, certificate, or special identification as part of the new MCP track. However, I suspect that the company intends to rebrand the MCP and MCSE program in January 2002. Here's why:

  • Engineering societies in Canada and Texas have objected to Microsoft's use of the term "engineer." (For more information about these objections, see the URLs at the end of this column.) As a result, some reports recommend that Microsoft use only the initials MCSE when referring to the certification in Canada.
  • Microsoft and independent sources have surveyed MCPs and others about changing the name of the company's premier certification to Microsoft Certified System Expert. In fact, a recent poll included options for names that would change the MCSE acronym to something else entirely.
  • Microsoft's new OS, Windows XP, is scheduled to ship in October for desktop systems (sooner for OEM systems from Dell and other large PC manufacturers) and in first quarter 2002 for the server OS, Windows .NET Server.

Initial reports indicate that XP/Windows .NET Server and Win2K will have enough in common that Microsoft will make Win2K exams interchangeable with exams in the XP/Windows .NET Server track. This interchangeability could open the door to a rebranded XP/Windows .NET Server MCSE certification that grandfathers in Win2K certification holders.

I'm not certain that Microsoft will take its certifications in the XP direction, but rebranding remains a possibility for other reasons. The Windows NT 3.51 MCSE certification has expired. However, unless you call Microsoft or request a transcript, you have no way to know which certification track a person has completed or what that person's certification status is. Given the limited number of NT 3.51 MCSEs, this uncertainty isn't a significant issue. But considering the large number of NT 4.0 MCSEs, the uncertainty will likely become a problem when the NT 4.0 certifications expire at the end of this year.

I believe that Microsoft will roll out a revamped, rebranded MCP program for first quarter 2002. Further, I believe that the new program will apply retroactively to MCSEs enrolled in the Win2K track before the end of this year. If the program has a different acronym and a different logo, NT 3.51 and NT 4.0 MCSEs couldn't misrepresent themselves as more recently certified.

Microsoft currently offers Exam 70-240: Microsoft Windows 2000 Accelerated Exam for MCPs Certified on Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, a one-time, free upgrade of the MCSE's core components. For the remaining exams, or for people who don't pass Exam 70-240, Microsoft offers a 25 percent discount on all seven core Win2K exams. Quite possibly, the next incentive to upgrade will be a carrot-and-stick approach rather than the current carrot-only method.

Rebranding the MCSE program isn't something that Microsoft should consider lightly, but the early warning signs indicate that such a move is possible. The number of MCPs and MCSEs will drop significantly when NT 4.0 exams and related electives expire at the end of this year. So Microsoft might consider the timing to be exceptional for a program name and logo change to easily identify current Microsoft Certified Experts, or whatever name the company chooses. The new logo could match the style of this year's new Microsoft Solutions Partner logo, which would make Microsoft's partner companies and its certified experts easily identifiable at a glance and would link them to each other.

With the certainty of the NT 4.0 exam expirations and the interchangeability of the existing Win2K exams with future XP/Windows .NET Server exams, now is a really good time to get motivated and start thinking about your next certification exam. Good luck!