When Microsoft unveiled Windows 2000, it retired the Windows NT 4.0 exams soon thereafter. If the company does the same thing for Windows XP, those people now getting certified on Win2K would have to recertify. Because no one wants to go through the grueling recertification process twice in a couple of years, many people think the best choice is to forego Win2K certification and wait for Windows XP certification. But is it?

For just about everyone out there, the more sensible option is to pursue Win2K certification—for several reasons. First, Win2K certification and Windows XP certification will be interchangeable. Everything that Microsoft has said indicates that a Win2K MCSE will be no different than a Windows XP MCSE. Microsoft's site states that "candidates will have the option to complete their certifications with either Win2K or Windows XP Professional/Whistler exams, or a combination of both." This statement leads me to believe that both certifications' retirement dates will be similar (and hopefully a long way off!). Microsoft caught a lot of heat for retiring the NT 4.0 exams as quickly as it did. Because Microsoft will probably avoid such quick retirements in the future, a Win2K MCSE should be a pretty safe time and money investment.

The second reason to pursue Win2K certification is that Win2K and Windows XP are very similar OSs. At a recent TechMentor conference, Brian Komar, a contract program manager from Microsoft, offered this advice, "Don't wait for Whistler \[XP\]. The designs you create today for Windows will come through for Whistler." Indeed, learning Win2K now will help you immensely when you need to learn Windows XP. Microsoft states on its Web site that "you will not be adequately prepared to deploy and maintain Windows XP Professional and Whistler if you have no experience with or training in Win2K." Rather than waiting for Windows XP and running the risk that you'll be in over your head, you're better off learning Win2K now.

Third, remember that study materials don't come out for some time after Microsoft releases an exam. And you'll want to avoid the error-ridden first editions of many study guides. After Microsoft releases the exams, a good selection of quality study material often takes 6 months to 1 year to become available. Therefore, you might be 18 months or more away from being able to properly prepare for your Windows XP exams.

Is there any reason to wait? Perhaps you've been in the Microsoft world for a while and itch to do something different. Now might be a good time to pursue an alternative certification. Cisco jumps to mind as an extremely hot certification, but others, such as Linux and Oracle, are worthwhile as well. The biggest risk you run in going after one of these certifications is that your current Microsoft certifications could lapse. Be sure to consult Microsoft's Training and Services site to determine whether that could happen to you.

In general, I don't recommend waiting for Windows XP certification. The Win2K MCSE exams are out now, and many solid resources are available to help you prepare. Rather than using Windows XP's upcoming release as an excuse not to study, use it as motivation to study even harder. After all, if you can knock out your Win2K MCSE quickly, you'll be that much more prepared when Windows XP hits the streets.

Microsoft has some excellent FAQs dealing with the issues surrounding Win2K and Windows XP certification. If you haven't already, check them out.

If you still have questions about certification, post them on MCSE Live!, the Internet's most popular certification discussion board. If you're not a registered member of MCSE Live!, register for free at http://www.2000tutor.com/cgi-bin/Ultimate.cgi?action=agree.