If Microsoft ship dates can be believed, the company will ship its next client operating system -- currently code-named Longhorn -- in 2006 with a server release to follow in 2007. That may seem an eternity away, but it's not too early to start thinking about Longhorn certification since Microsoft could announce plans to discontinue older-generation cert programs as early as June 2005.
June is the month that Microsoft traditionally announces changes to its certification curricula. The company typically provides one year's notice before the changes go into effect in order to gives MCPs time to plan, study for and schedule exams that will eventually go away.
There are three reasons why it's worth thinking about Longhorn certification planning now -- especially if you are not yet certified on Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003:
- Microsoft product and exam releases have been falling ever closer together in the progression from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003. This means you can expect exams on Longhorn to appear at about the same time or soon after product releases do.
- It takes aftermarket vendors around 90 days after exam release to follow up with study guides, exam crams and practice tests. If you can wait for such things, so much the better; but if not, start taking Microsoft classes or compiling beta and early product release documentation (and experience) as soon as possible.
- Microsoft typically gives holders of back-rev certifications (Windows 2000 credentials, in the case of the Longhorn release) about a year to upgrade their certifications before those credentials are discontinued. This will really put the pressure on when Longhorn ships. Those who waited to upgrade from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 credentials quickly learned that test center seats and time slots became scarce as deadlines approached. Plan ahead!
For IT professionals currently pursuing various MCP exams or specific Microsoft credentials like MCSA, MCSE or MCDBA, I see three possible certification scenarios:
- If you hold no current Windows credentials for Windows 2000 or newer releases and you use Windows 2000 on the job, you should probably jump onto your credentials of interest sooner rather than later. By my estimates, Windows 2000 credentials may last as long as 2008, but exams may be discontinued as soon as 2007 for Windows 2000 Professional and 2008 for other exams in that program. That said, you'll want to leave yourself enough time to also take the 2000 to Server 2003 upgrade exams because they'll be discontinued at the same time.
- If you hold Windows 2000 credentials, it's time to take the upgrade exams to revise your credentials for Windows Server 2003. If you've gotten a specialization (security or messaging), you'll need to take the specialization exams for Windows Server 2003 as well as the upgrade exams that cover your core requirements.
- If you hold Windows Server 2003 credentials, you can stand pat for a while—unless you want to pursue other such credentials or "upgrade" plain-vanilla MCSA or MCSE certs into their specialization counterparts in security or messaging.
Ed Tittel is a long-time certification follower. He's series editor for Exam Cram 2, a popular assembly of cert prep books from Que Publishing, and a contributing editor for Certification Magazine. He also covers certification topics for InformIT.com, and numerous other TechTarget Web sites.