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What 10-year product lifecycles mean for MCPs

What 10-year product lifecycles mean for MCPs

When Microsoft announced it was moving to a 10-year lifecycle for product support, Windows NT 4.0 customers around the world heaved a vast sigh of relief. Based on the initial description of Microsoft's new 10-year program (up from seven years, including five years of mainstream support, followed by two years of extended support) most thought that the news meant three more years of extended support for Windows NT 4.0 Professional, Windows NT 4.0 Server, and Exchange Server 5.5. The original dates for expiration of these items were June 30, 2004 for Windows 2000 Pro, December 31, 2004 for Windows 2000 server and December 31, 2005 for Exchange Server 5.5.

But the devil is in the details. Alas, the 10-year support lifecycle applies only to products still in the mainstream support part of their support lifecycles, not to products already in the extended support phase.

This has profound implications for those working on MS certifications. It means that companies still using Windows NT 4.0 must accelerate migration plans and get started implementing soon. In fact, such enterprises must immediately get moving onto newer Windows Server platform -- either Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003 -- if they want Microsoft to support them. This leads to an inevitable question: Should customers simply move up one release to Windows 2000, which benefits from the 10-year lifecycle and be supported until June 30, 2010, or leapfrog all the way to Windows Server 2003?

To some extent, the answer depends on the expertise within your organization. If you've already begun piloting either Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003, chances are you'll want to stay the course on whatever platform you're on. If there's no pilot or test implementation underway, it may make sense to leapfrog and jump right into Windows Server 2003, given the presence of better domain migration utilities and its improved security capabilities.

Either way, IT professionals charged with the care and feeding of Windows-based systems will be digging into newer platforms sooner rather than later. I predict this means a bump in Windows certifications overall. Eventually, more of the emphasis will swing over to Windows Server 2003 but the initial emphasis will be on Windows 2000 exams and credentials.

As far as the desktop goes, the swing has already occurred, with Windows XP Professional (70-270) exams outnumbering Windows 2000 (70-210) exams by two to one or better. But it's clear that the trailing edge of the IT community -- what we might call "late adopters" or "reluctant adopters" will now be dragged into either the Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003 exam sequences, depending on where their migration strategies lead them. This should create lots of opportunities for would-be or current MCPs seeking to update their certifications.

Those uncertain on which platform to certify should look to their own corporate environment. The best course is to certify on the platform you'll be working with most. With the next version of Windows not in the offing until 2006 (Longhorn desktop) and 2007 (Longhorn server), those who certify on Windows 2000 can count on at least two years of use for their credentials, after which they can take the Windows Server 2003 upgrade exams (70-292 for MCSAs, 70-292 and 70-296 for MCSEs) to bump their credentials up. Those with more forward-looking workplaces or horizons can certify on Windows Server 2003 right now.

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, and numerous other TechTarget Web sites.

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