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Microsoft Certification: Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003?

Should you certifiy now on Win2K exams or wait for next generation Windows Server 2003 exams.

In the wake of Microsoft's recent reversal of its "mix'n'match" strategy on Windows 2000 exams versus Windows Server 2003 exams (and – presumably -- Windows XP for the desktop), lots of readers have e-mailed me to ask: "Should I get certified on Windows 2000 exams sooner, or wait and get certified on next-generation Windows Server 2003 exams?"

Any time we're on the cusp of changes in Windows certifications programs, this question pops up -- and it's always a good one. Here are some facts that will help put new exam availability in context.

  • All Windows 2000 MCSA and MCSE exams are already available, and nearly all of them are covered in 3rd-party books, study guides, practice tests and classes.
  • The latest information on exam availability is that MCSA exams for Windows will be out in summer 2003 (June through August).
  • Likewise, MCSE exams will be out in fall 2003 (September through November).
  • Additional exams on Windows Server 2003 BackOffice components -- MCSE electives, MCDBA exams, and so forth -- are likely to show up in late 2003 and in the first half of 2004.

For those already underway in certifying on Windows 2000, it would be wise to finish up ASAP. For those contemplating an MCSA or MCSE in the next year or two, things shake out like this:

  • If you want to start before September, your only choice is the Windows 2000 track. Other exams aren't available.
  • If you want to finish before the end of 2003, you'll be better off following the Windows 2000 track. Although 2003 exams should become available sometime between June and November, they won't be as fully supported with Exam Crams, study guides, practice tests and so on, until they've been out for a while. The longer you can wait to take an exam, the more information you'll find to help you pass.
  • If you don't need to certify until 2004, it's OK to wait for the Windows Server 2003 program to emerge and solidify. On the other hand, if you're a Microsoft partner or developer, you may be forced to take the new exams by the middle to the end of 2004 to keep your credentials current.

The inevitable follow-up is "If I certify on Windows 2000, how soon must I upgrade for Windows Server 2003?" Microsoft has announced it will offer upgrade exams for the MCSA and MCSE to take people from the 2000 to the 2003 level. They haven't yet said when those upgrade exams will be available. I can only guess how this will work. Based on how Microsoft handled upgrading from NT 4 to Windows 2000, I believe individuals won't be able to upgrade until Q3 or Q4 of 2003 and that they won't be forced (by virtue of partnership requirements and so forth) to upgrade until a year later. Given that one exam is likely to upgrade an MCSA and two to upgrade an MCSE, I'm hoping those upgrade requirements won't be too onerous, either.

Bottom line: if you're in a hurry or you want to finish MCSA or MCSE this year, take the Windows 2000 track. If you've got more time or specific Windows Server 2003 requirements, you'll have to wait for the next exams to come around.

Ed Tittel runs a content development company in Austin, Texas, and is the series editor of the Que Exam Cram 2 and Training Guide series. He's worked on many books on Microsoft, CompTIA, CIW, Sun/Java, and security certifications.

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