In my last column, I told you that Microsoft was extending the deadline for taking the Windows NT 4.0 exams through February 28, 2001. But any certification that depends on these exams will still be valid only through December 31, 2001. So if you want to maintain an MCSE or MCDBA certification after the end of this year, you must take one or more Windows 2000 exams. Several times in the past, I've also mentioned the problems with this deadline for people who aren't ready to upgrade to Win2K and might not be ready by the end of this year.

Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) who want to maintain certification without investing the time and expense to learn a new OS have an alternative route. An organization, Lanop, now offers an NT 4.0-based certification called the NT Certified Independent Professional (NT-CIP) that the organization seems to imply will remain valid at least through 2005. You can read more about this certification at Lanop's Web site.

Be aware that the information at the site is inconsistent. For example, one page says the new NT-CIP tests will be available on January 1, and another page says they will be available as soon as the Microsoft NT 4.0 exams expire. There are also some misunderstandings about the MCSE certification: The Lanop site keeps trying to qualify MCSE by calling it an NT MCSE or a Win2K MCSE. Microsoft insists MCSE has no adjectives associated with it. To Microsoft, an MCSE is an MCSE, and the issue is that all the exams that qualify you for this certification must be current. If you want to know whether someone has an MCSE based on the NT 4.0 or Win2K exams, you must look at his or her transcript.

But ignoring these minor details regarding the site, you might find the NT-CIP a viable alternative. Sunbelt Software's W2KNews reported in its December 11 newsletter that the NT-CIP received a carefully worded approval from Redmond:

"Microsoft acknowledges the IT industry has the need for a broad range of certifications. These certification types range from credentials for IT job market entrants to specialized credentials. The newly announced NT Certified Independent Professional credential may meet the needs of some organizations."

Other information on the Lanop/NT-CIP site indicates that the organization believes its certification will be more valuable than MCSE certification; the organization claims it will update its tests much more often from a wider pool of test questions. According to the organization, this means it will be more difficult for test takers to prepare by reading "brain-dump" sites—they'll actually have to know what they're doing to pass one of the NT-CIP tests. Whether this is true, and whether holding the NT-CIP will really indicate a minimum degree of expertise, remains to be seen. And it might take a while to find out because Lanop is grandfathering in anyone who has a current MCSE based on the NT 4.0 exams. So if a considerable percentage of the current MCSEs are only "paper MCSEs," they will also be "paper NT-CIPs," and the value of this certification is diluted right at the start.

I certainly believe, as Microsoft appears to in its statement above, that there is room for alternatives in the certification process. But nothing on Lanop's site even remotely begins to convince me that its certification will have any real value in the marketplace as a tool to differentiate job candidates. The only value I see is to let NT professionals maintain some certification without upgrading to Win2K.

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