I'm gratified to find that people are reading what I write—and reading it carefully. I made a mistake last time, and dozens of you wrote to tell me about it. In fact, the mistake earned me a place on an infamous BOZO Board. I didn't receive a link to this board, just the exciting announcement that I had earned a place there. If all it takes is one mistake to make the listing, I'm sure I'm in good company. Here's the guilty text from last time: "Microsoft recently announced a new requirement that all MCTs become MCSE, MCSD, or MCDBA certified by December 31, 2000. However, on that same date, all Windows NT 4.0 certifications expire."

Did you spot the error? Actually, I provided the correct information a little further down in the same column: "NT 4.0 exams expire on December 31, 2000." The NT 4.0 exams, not the certification, expire at the end of this year, and if you haven't taken the exams by then and want to become an MCSE, you have to take the Windows 2000 exams. If you've already taken the NT 4.0 exams but haven't completed all your electives, you can still earn your MCSE based on the expired exams. If your certification is based on expired exams, the certification is valid for a year from the exams' expiration date.

I apologize for any undue panic this error might have caused. As a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), I'm very aware of the difference between a certification expiring and an exam expiring. As I said last time, at the beginning of next year, all MCTs must also have one of the other premium certifications. If my MCSE expired, so would my MCT certification, which is required for a lot of the work I do. If I lost my certification, I'd lose income.

To review, you have until December 31, 2001, to upgrade your NT 4.0 certification to Win2K. To upgrade, though, you'll have to start working with the Win2K product long before that—which is where the biggest problem lies. Microsoft expects the people it's testing to have used the products—not just to have memorized facts from quick-and-dirty study guides—and you can answer many questions only from real-world experience. To really learn Win2K, you need more than an old machine at home. You need a real network with domain controllers, regular servers, and workstations. If you're working as a network administrator for a company that is planning to upgrade soon, you're in luck. But I don't see how an MCSE working for a company that won't be upgrading for a while can get the prerequisite experience necessary to pass the exams. The certification expiration deadlines unrealistically assume that the entire NT user base will be upgrading within the next year. One of my biggest clients still had many major applications running on NT 3.51 at the beginning of this year and is only now upgrading all such systems to NT 4.0. I haven't heard anything from the client about upgrading to Win2K any time soon.

Many certification-deadline complaints I've read are from MCSEs who've invested their time and money in the NT 4.0 certification and will have to spend more time and money to upgrade their certification. But organizations entrenched in NT 4.0 will have to spend vastly larger amounts of time and money to provide an environment that lets their MCSE or prospective MCSE employees learn the new technology.

I don't want to end this column with a complaint, though. Although I can't respond to all the email messages I receive, I do read most of them. And what I'd like to see are suggestions about how current and future MCSEs can gain the necessary experience to pass the Win2K exams—even if their employers aren't upgrading to Win2K. Send me your ideas (kalen_delaney@win2000mag.com), and I'll share them with the rest of the readers.