Users criticize decision to halt NT certification

Depending on whom you talk to, Microsoft Corp. is either jilting a good number of its certified professionals or just trying to get them to embrace the future.

Microsoft decided in December that Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers must pass a Windows 2000 exam by the end of next year or lose their certification. But a more immediate concern was that, as of Dec. 31 this year, technicians will no longer be able to obtain a Windows NT certification from Microsoft. Just recently, a possible alternative surfaced.

Lanop Corp., a New York-based computer systems training firm, announced it intends to begin issuing independent NT certifications when Microsoft pulls the plug. Lanop said it’s filling a void for companies that aren’t migrating anytime soon to Windows 2000, and for MCSEs who see earning a Win 2k certificate as premature.

“It looks to me like that’s a bit of a waste to become [a Windows 2000-trained] MCSE,” said Roger Taylor, chief engineer at Radio Lubbock, a broadcast radio group in Lubbock, Tex. “I strongly think we’ll wait until 2002 or whenever the next release comes out” before migrating away from NT, Taylor said. “We’ll want NT people even if Microsoft doesn’t.”

Augustine Danquah, a technical analyst at Fairfax, Va.-based BRTRC Technology Research Corp., said his company has no plans to switch its NT-based Web-hosting machines to Windows 2000.

“In my opinion, it’s rash for Microsoft to force this change,” he said. “We are happy with NT, and that’s what I hear from a majority of our clients.”

Other technicians bordered on exasperation.

“I feel kind of jilted,” said Michael Buckingham, a network engineer at Philadelphia-based technology outsourcer CDI Corp.

Buckingham paid US$6,000 for NT certification courses and now must pay another US$3,000 if he wants his MCSE certification to be valid past Dec. 31. Buckingham said he doesn’t want to find himself in the same situation with Windows 2000 certification in another year or two, so he is considering seeking a Cisco Systems Inc. certification instead.

Rod Robbins, an MCSE in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., also said he plans to seek alternate certification.

“I don’t like being bullied, and it’s clear Microsoft is doing this so that the technicians go to their employers and say, ‘We’ve got this training; why not let us use it?'” Robbins said.

Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham, Mass., said Microsoft relies on its MCSEs to act as “in-house salespeople,” pushing employers to adopt the latest Microsoft offerings.

“It will slow the adoption process if people aren’t prepared, and it’s in [Microsoft’s] best interest to speed the adoption process,” he said.

Yet IDC surveys indicate that companies plan a slow migration to Windows 2000, and Kusnetzky argued that coercing engineers to recertify could cause a backlash, alienating the very in-house advocates upon which Microsoft has relied in the past.

In any event, Lanop founder John Goodfriend said he sees an opportunity.

“Companies tell us they aren’t going to move,” Goodfriend said. “In the past, Microsoft was able to force their migrations, but they’ve lost a lot of their clout because of the Justice Department’s [antitrust] decision.”

In a statement, Microsoft said it doesn’t know enough about the independent testing by Lanop to comment on its value. And the company staunchly defended its shift to Windows 2000 certification.

“With the introduction of the MCSE track for Windows 2000, Microsoft is helping companies identify skilled individuals who can facilitate the transition to state-of-the-art technology,” Microsoft said in the statement.