Microsoft has announced an offer that will make it easier for Windows NT 4.0 MCSEs and MCSE candidates to upgrade to the Windows 2000 MCSE certification. With a free voucher, all MCPs (not just MCSEs) who have passed Exams 70-067, 70-068, and 70-073 (and who have passed fewer than four of the Win2K MCSE core exams) can take Exam 70-240, Microsoft Windows 2000 Accelerated Exam for MCPs Certified on Microsoft Windows NT 4.0. You have 4 hours to take the exam, which covers topics you'll find on the Win2K MCSE core exams: 70-210, 70-215, 70-216, and 70-217. Exam 70-240 is tough to pass, but you have three good reasons to give it a try.

First, it's free. Second, if you pass, you can skip the four Win2K core exams. Third, if you fail, you will still have gained a good sense of the kinds of questions and topics that the core exams cover and a practical assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. The third is perhaps the most important benefit because the Win2K core exams contain several new types of questions, and your success on the Win2K exams will depend on how well you tackle these questions.

As a word of caution, don't expect to take this exam more than once. To ensure exam integrity, Microsoft has restricted each candidate to one try. If you fail, you have to take the four core exams.

The key to passing Exam 70-240 is to determine when you should take it. Current MCSEs with 2 years or more of work experience and 6 months or more of Win2K experience will have the best chance of passing the exam. MCSE candidates who have taken a few exams or MCSEs who have received their certifications recently should spend 6 months or so learning Win2K before attempting the exam.

Candidates who are just starting the certification process face a difficult choice. Although I believe that NT 4.0 will be in use long after 2001, most of the current NT MCSE certification exams won't be available after the end of 2000. If you're just starting down the certification path, you should ask yourself whether you can pass Exams 70-067, 70-068, and 70-073 before the end of the year and whether it's worth the cost of three exams to have a chance to skip the four Win2K core exams (and their associated cost). The answer might depend on whether your career path includes NT. In the long run, whether or not you like it, everyone will use Win2K. Over the next 2 years, however, it's very likely that NT will maintain its large installed base. My guess is that demand for Win2K-certified MCSEs will increase steadily throughout 2001, and I expect that MCSEs who understand both Win2K and NT will find themselves in the highest demand. It is, therefore, a wise choice to certify in both OSs.

In fact, when people complain that their efforts in pursuit of the NT MCSE certifications appear, suddenly, to have been for naught, I reply that in a world of rapidly changing technology, those who can adapt and help transition from the old to the new will always be the ones who will be in demand. The cost of the exams is a small price to pay for job security. The good news is that Microsoft is making the vouchers for Exam 70-240 available through next year. Certainly the cheapest way to upgrade is to spend 6 months learning Win2K, then pass Exam 70-240 and be done with it.

For more information about the voucher offer, go to the Microsoft Web site and click "Order Free Windows 2000 Accelerated Exam Voucher."