This week, Microsoft announced that the company is revamping the Microsoft Certified Solution Provider (MCSP) program and renaming it the Microsoft Certified Partner program. The new program, which is slated to begin January 1, builds on MCSP and offers Microsoft's partners a variety of meaningful technical certifications that will benefit their customers. In addition, Microsoft is creating a higher level of certification, the Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, that has much higher requirements and higher levels of support from Microsoft. According to Rosa Garcia, general manager of Microsoft Partner Programs, the new certifications are a win-win for Microsoft, its partners, and their customers.

"This is really exciting," Garcia said during a private question-and-answer session after yesterday's press conference at Internet World in New York. "In the past, we had relationships with partners, but this new vision opens up new opportunities for everyone. Microsoft is a different company now than it was 6 months ago." Microsoft's MCSP program, which has 31,000 members, has been in place since 1992, but the company wants to work more closely with its partners and help those partners work with, rather than compete against, each other. New peer networking services will help Microsoft partners find other partners that specialize in specific areas, so that both parties can more easily offer their customers integrated solutions. And as Microsoft moves forward to .NET, Microsoft Certified Partners can focus on market and technical readiness for the new initiative. Garcia reported that more than 96 percent of Microsoft's revenue comes from its partners, so this program is an asset in which the company wants to invest.

"Our partners want to be able to differentiate themselves," Garcia said, "and make it easy to have a relationship with Microsoft. But they also want us to share intellectual property with them and treat them like employees." Microsoft won't hand out the Windows 2000 source code anytime soon, but the company will begin to share technical and marketing documents and other internal tools with its partners.

For more information about the new Microsoft Certified Partner program, visit the Microsoft Web site