I'll be the guest editor for the next several Training & Certification columns while Kalen Delaney finishes the next edition of her book, Inside SQL Server 2000. I've worked with and programmed computers since 1975. The sixth anniversary of my MCT certification comes up in a couple of weeks, and I have been an MCSE and MCSD since 1995. I also currently hold the MCSE+Internet, MCDBA, and CTT certifications. Finally, I write feature articles for SQL Server Magazine, Windows 2000 Magazine's sister publication.

Since Microsoft announced the Win2K MCSE requirements, most people have focused on how they're going to pass the new Win2K MCSE core exams. You can, however, do something to advance your certification efforts right now: prepare for and take the MCSE elective exams. The lists of electives for the Windows NT 4.0 and Win2K MCSE programs overlap. If you've focused on the NT 4.0 versions of the exams or upgraded from previous versions, in many cases, you should be able to use your NT 4.0 elective as a Win2K MCSE elective. Let's look at which elective exams will prove most useful in preparing you for the core Win2K MCSE exams.

First, I recommend that all MCSE candidates take the NT 4.0 TCP/IP exam, 70-059. TCP/IP pervades the networking landscape. Preparing for this exam forces you to learn about DNS, DHCP, and other critical concepts. Specifically, knowledge of TCP/IP is essential for the Win2K MCSE certification because so many of Win2K's new features are based on TCP/IP features and services. This exam will likely retire next year, but it's worth taking now, if you haven't already.

Second, if you have access to an Exchange Server or Site Server 3.0 installation, consider taking the Exchange Server exams, 70-081 or 70-224, and/or the Site Server exam, 70-056. Both Exchange and Site Server store information about their users in databases very similar to, if not the same as, Active Directory (AD). If you learn how either Exchange (2000 or 5.5) or Site Server works, you'll have a head start on learning how AD works. The main difference is that Microsoft designed AD to be the repository for information about the entire network, not just for a particular set of services on the network. If you don't have access to either product, consider installing the 120-day evaluation version of the one that fits your current environment best so that you can learn AD concepts in a smaller, more contained environment than a full-blown Win2K network.

The other electives are good choices if you need to support particular products, but they don't necessarily help you prepare for the Win2K core exams. Of the others, I think the SQL Server 7.0 exam, 70-028, and the IIS 4.0 exam, 70-087, are the most straightforward because simply working with the product prepares you well for the exam. If Internet Explorer (IE) is your primary browser, the IE Administration Kit (IEAK) exams, 70-079 and 70-080, aren't very difficult because IEAK isn't a very complex product. Just remember that Microsoft will retire some of these exams at the end of the year, and you'll need to take the replacement exam by the end of 2001.

Consider taking your elective exams first because they can count toward both certifications, and studying for them helps accustom you to Win2K. In the next issue, I'll show you a way you can get an evaluation copy of what you need to study for the Win2K MCSE core exams.

I'll conclude with two recommendations that will help you in your studies. A fairly new book, Understanding Microsoft Windows 2000 Distributed Services (Microsoft Press, April 2000; ISBN 157231687X), seems aimed at developers, but don't let that fool you. The author does a great job explaining concepts without using any programming examples.

VMWare is software that mimics an entire computer, down to having its own BIOS, video card, hard disk, and network card. It lets you simulate an entirely separate computer running in a window under Win2K or NT. Good performance requires 192MB or more of RAM and a 450MHz or higher CPU, but upgrading is usually cheaper than buying a complete system. Download the trial version from VMWare's Web site to see how easy it is to create a multicomputer network with just one or two computers.