Is Microsoft strong-arming NT partners?

Maverick certified pros rebel against new Windows 2000 requirements

Microsoft has altered the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) rules, but some MCSEs are fighting mad -- they're taking their fight public on a book publisher's Web site.

Many Windows NT gurus frequent the site, run by The Coriolis Group, because it offers Windows-related books and other materials. In an open letter to Microsoft and MCSEs, Coriolis chief executive, Keith Weiskamp, wrote: "The Windows 2000 MCSE changes that [Microsoft has] recently announced -- such as limiting enrollment for beta exams, restricting access to the accelerated exam for existing MCSEs to a single try, and limiting the time lines during which MCSEs must 'upgrade' their certifications -- are unfair."

Some MCSEs are protesting Microsoft's decision to retire MCSE NT 4.0 tests by the end of 2000 and de-certify NT 4.0 MCSEs after 31 December 2001. Critics complain that these policies will force MCSEs to get Windows 2000 certified, even if they have no interest in the operating system. Some MCSEs also are protesting the increased costs, time and effort of upgrading their certifications.

Ironically, the controversy erupted the same week that Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer proclaimed that Windows 2000 licences have topped one million units. Some Microsoft partners, however, weren't celebrating. "We just want Microsoft to think this through," said Weiskamp. "It's not too late to change the [certification] program. [Microsoft's policies force] people to Windows 2000 before they're ready for it."

Some MCSEs strongly agree. Chris Tellez, an MCSE who helped launch the protest site, thinks that the rapid retirement of the NT 4.0 credential is "some serious funny business". Tellez said he would be satisfied if Microsoft met the MCSEs halfway and extended NT 4.0's retirement date. "If they pushed it out to 2001, and retired the certification at the end of 2002, I'd probably be happy," he said. "[W2K] is a great operating system, but I'm still learning it. I'm not ready to go throw it in everybody's [blueprints]." Still, some MCSEs defend Microsoft's stance. MCSE Phil McCoun, for one, said Microsoft's "tough love" approach will mean that the "MCSE will once again hold real value".

Donna Senko, Microsoft's director of certification and skills assessment, defends the revisions. Senko said Microsoft is committed to keeping the MCSE certification "highly relevant" and that "relevant means up-to-date".

Some protesters want a two-tier MCSE effort -- one for NT and one for Win2000. Microsoft has used that approach before, but this time the company "anticipates that Windows 2000 will be used much more widely than NT," said Senko. Hence, a single certification program.

Microsoft isn't the only company to face partner backlash during an operating system upgrade cycle. Some resellers boycotted the original NetWare 4.0 release because it was buggy and cost 25 percent more than NetWare 3.12. Novell eventually bowed to partner complaints, cleaned up the code and dropped prices with the release of NetWare 4.1, said Willie Donahoo, formerly director of NetWare marketing at Novell.

But unlike Microsoft, Donahoo insisted that Novell never strong-armed resellers into new certification programs.

Additional reporting by Ben Elgin, Joseph C Panettieri & Esther Schindler.

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