In an earlier column, I suggested that you might want to get into a regular habit of checking the Microsoft Training and Certification Web site. In particular, you might want to keep an eye on the benefits area—click Certification and select Certification Benefits from the drop-down. After visiting the site recently and reading about access to "new secured content on the Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine (MCP Magazine) Online Web site," I went to the magazine's site and discovered that if you're an MCP, you can get a free subscription to the printed magazine. You can also gain access to special areas on the magazine's Web site. If you hold a premier certification, you can gain access to other areas, presumably even more special. The Microsoft site doesn't give you all the details, but gets you headed in the right direction.

Another benefit that I discovered recently is that if you acquire a premiere certification, you qualify for reduced subscription rates for Microsoft CD-ROM and DVD-based information services. For example, TechNet is available to MCSEs and Microsoft Certified Database Administrators (MCDBAs), and Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) is available at a discount to all MCPs. What particularly caught my eye was that if you have either an MCDBA or MCSD certification, you can get the Universal Level subscription to MSDN for only $500 (US)—a savings of almost $2000. However, the benefit's description implies that the special deal is good for only your first year of certification. And the description doesn't mention what happens if you obtain a second premier certification—for example, if you hold the MCDBA and then acquire the MCSD in another year. The description also doesn't mention what happens if you had a premier certification but lost it because of exam expirations. If you regain your certification, do you get another discount? If so, I'd be tempted to let my MCSE lapse (I still haven't taken the upgrade exam, Exam 70-240: Microsoft Windows 2000 Accelerated Exam for MCPs Certified on Microsoft Windows NT 4.0) and attain it again. Actually, I get the MSDN Universal Level through another channel, but I sure love saving money!

I also have a subscription to MCP Magazine, and something I noticed in the latest issue takes me back to a subject I addressed in one of my first commentaries for Training and Certification UPDATE. I discussed the need for MCSEs to learn Win2K quickly so that they could maintain their certifications after the NT 4.0 exams expire at the end of this year. But what would you do if you had no exposure to the new OS and nowhere to get hands-on experience if your employer wasn't planning to upgrade to Win2K anytime before the certification deadline? In MCP Magazine, I saw an ad for a product that simulates Win2K and, according to the ad copy, lets you build your own learning program that includes a fully functioning Win2K lab simulation. The ad implies that you can change the parameters you want to explore to help you determine the answers to "What If" scenarios— without the actual product installed.

This almost sounds too good to be true, and perhaps it is. I wonder whether such simulation products could provide a viable solution to the problem I just described. What do you think? Let me know whether you've used this type of product or whether you might consider it. In particular, I'd like to hear about the kinds of things you couldn't learn from working only with a simulator. I'm sure many MCSE candidates would also love to hear what you think. Click here to post a Reader Comment.