Microsoft abandons MCSE decertification policy

Microsoft Corp. said Wednesday it will not decertify MCSEs (Microsoft-certified systems engineers) for Windows NT 4.0 or below who do not upgrade to Windows 2000 by Dec. 31, as was announced more than a year ago by the Redmond, Wash., company.

Announcing its decision, the company cited an inability to "accurately predict the appropriate timing" for retiring certification credentials on older versions of its products.

"We've spent the past six months doing channel and customer research, and it's become pretty clear that there is a set of customers who are well-served to have their MCSE on Windows NT 4.0. We want to continue to recognize that skill set as valuable," said Robert Stewart, general manager of training certification for Microsoft, explaining the reason for the sudden change in policy just a few months before the deadline.

The company is still trying to encourage MCSEs to upgrade, however. Individuals working for organizations classified as Microsoft partners must do so in order for their companies to maintain their partner status, and those who do upgrade will have the formal designation of "MCSE on Microsoft Windows 2000" to differentiate their qualification.

"We are getting out of the prediction business ... [and] trying to find the balance between encouraging people to upgrade their skill sets while not making it a forced march for individuals who don't want to go there," Stewart said.

But many certified MCSEs have already gone there and have felt forced to upgrade.

"I just took the accelerated exam [for the MCSE Windows 2000 certification] and passed," said Brad Dinerman, manager of technical operations for SilverSword Solutions LLC in Brookline, Mass. "When Microsoft originally announced they were going to force NT MCSEs to upgrade or lose their status, for many reasons -- including time -- many MCSEs I know weren't able to upgrade by the deadline. To have taken away their certification would have alienated them from Microsoft and left them feeling out in the cold.

"This change takes a lot of pressure off the existing MCSEs," Dinerman said. "It will make them feel valuable. Ultimately, I think it will encourage them to upgrade and allow them to set a more realistic goal."

Stewart said he was aware that the company would face criticism for the change so close to the deadline.

"There will be people who are upset with us. And we'll have to get through the short-term anger. But the long-term benefit will outweigh the short-term [problems]. But the net result of what they've done by upgrading their skills set is that they've bettered themselves and have added value to their opportunities to make money."

Unlike the launch of any previous operating system, Stewart said Microsoft plans to release the MCSE Windows XP exam at the same time it releases the product.

In addition to amending its decertification policy, Microsoft announced it has created a new credential -- the Microsoft-certified systems administrator -- that will include a subset of the MCSE credentials and is focused specifically on the skills needed to manage and troubleshoot Windows 2000-based systems.

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