Microsoft has restructured the certification offerings for the next version of its Windows server OS, now called Windows Server 2003. Instead of simply refreshing current exams to reflect the new product, as Microsoft has previously done, the company is restructuring the relationship between the MCSE and the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) credentials. Here's what you need to know about Windows 2003 certification.

No More Mix and Match
Initially, Microsoft said that MCSE and MCSA candidates could choose from among Windows 2003 and Windows 2000 exams to become certified. Now, the certifications are separate. If you're certified on Win2K, you must take one or two upgrade exams to become certified on Windows 2003. Microsoft says that the upgrade exams will be very similar to the Win2K exams, both in length and type of content. The company doesn't plan to offer any accelerated upgrade exams.

By requiring full-length upgrade exams (one for MCSA candidates, two for MCSEs), Microsoft hopes to retain the integrity of its certifications (some candidates claim that accelerated upgrade exams are too easy). The full-length upgrade exams build on candidates' knowledge of Win2K, the company says, but also let people who pursue Windows 2003 certifications attain credentials that are specific to their abilities. Combining Windows 2003 and Win2K would muddy the distinction, Microsoft believes.

The final release dates aren't yet available, but Microsoft says that it will publish the new Windows 2003 MCSA exams this summer and the MCSE exams in the fall. Microsoft will ship Windows 2003 with Visual Studio .NET 2003 on April 24, 2003.

By moving away from consolidated certifications, Microsoft is returning to a more logical scheme that will benefit both potential certificate holders and employers. Consider current and future needs when deciding whether to pursue Windows 20003 or Win2K certification. If you expect to work with Win2K systems for the foreseeable future, stick with Win2K certification. However, if your enterprise is moving to Windows 2003 or if you hope to move to an organization that has migrated, consider the Windows 2003 certification or the upgrade exams.