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Storm over MS bid to bounce MSCEs into Win2k

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Microsoft's current treatment of its MCSEs (certified systems engineers) shows just how fundamental are the problems faced by the company with Windows 2000. Microsoft is trying to pressure MCSEs who have taken the NT4 exam to take a combined Windows 2000 exam, code-numbered 70-240, before they might otherwise choose to do so. Keith Weiskamp, CEO of exam-crammers Coriolis, wrote an open letter to Bill Gates and Microsoft in which he says: "MCSEs serve as an adjunct sales force and technical support arm for Microsoft" and castigates Microsoft for the cavalier disregard it has shown towards its loyal followers. More than 2,000 people on coriolis.com have added their comments to his petition, and in the whole saga, their comments eloquently express their frustration. The reasons for Microsoft's behaviour are pretty transparent: very few enterprises - and most independent industry analysts like Gartner support this - are prepared to risk their business by adopting Windows 2000 to soon. Memories of what happened to some prominent businesses that were early adopters of Windows NT are still sharp enough: NatWest, which had disastrous experiences with NT in its insurance business integration as well as its retail banking, has been gobbled up by the Royal Bank of Scotland - a prominent IBM account. Somerfield, the UK supermarket chain, was another NT advocate, has fallen on very hard times and has been let down by its IT. The situation is therefore one in which Microsoft needs revenue from Windows 2000, but many of its potential customers are deferring any decision on purchasing it for two or three years. Microsoft clearly had the idea that if it could get its MCSEs with NT4 to upgrade themselves, they would want to put pressure on their employers to upgrade. The trick that Microsoft has used is to make examination 70-240 free, but only to allow people to try it once. The reason is transparently clear: 70-240 combines four examinations, and if a candidate fails just once, it will be necessary to take all four examinations, and to pay for taking each of them. This naturally has the effect of making candidates for 70-240 prepare more thoroughly, and if they pass, they are likely to get a job where Windows 2000 is being used. Furthermore, in order to dry up the supply of NT4 MCSEs, Microsoft is withdrawing the exams, without having given adequate notice to those doing them. As Weiskamp pointed out, Microsoft's exams should "not simply provide a leverage point to push people into upgrading software and systems as soon as possible, or before their employers are ready to adopt the latest version of Windows software". Donna Senko, Microsoft's director of certifications and skills assessment, was forced to respond, only to announce that Microsoft would not budge an inch. It is unfortunate that companies have such power over career paths. Concern has been expressed about Microsoft examinations being used in schools and at universities, and the consequent blurring between education and training. Perhaps the ultimate failing rests, at least in the UK, with the British Computer Society for not achieving better penetration with its own professional examinations, as well as with successive governments for having such digitally-incompetent politicians in charge of education. Microsoft thought that in its MCSE system it had the perfect way of making MCSEs into indentured servants: making them pay handsomely to keep up-to-date. But there's a refreshing amount of independence in the comments they have made on coriolis.com, and it seems possible that quite a few will leave the rat race and be looking to Novell, Unix and of course Linux, in the future. ®

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