I’m surprised. With just a few exceptions, I’ve long felt Microsoft Press publishes rock-solid certification training materials. Many TechRepublic members, however, disagree.

IT Certification Corner
Paperchase Digest is now Erik Eckel’s IT Certification Corner. As always, you’ll find certification tips and news in your inbox each Friday. Just go to the TechMails page and sign up to ensure that you keep up-to-date on the latest certification tips, shortcuts, news, and more!

IT Certification Corner
Paperchase Digest is now Erik Eckel’s IT Certification Corner. As always, you’ll find certification tips and news in your inbox each Friday. Just go to the TechMails page and sign up to ensure that you keep up-to-date on the latest certification tips, shortcuts, news, and more!

Two weeks ago, I published a review of Microsoft’s new line of Windows 2000 Readiness Reviews. While writing the article, I began wondering if software companies’ books should be held to a higher standard. After all, the publisher is a subsidiary of the same company that creates the actual certification tests the books cover. In the review, I asked for your opinions. You didn’t hold back.

TechRepublic members complained of impersonal styling, erroneous texts, unreliability, and general disappointment. While I certainly expected the predictable few letters railing against anything Microsoft creates just because Microsoft created it, out of the 14 e-mails I received, only three expressed satisfaction with Microsoft Press products.

Most notable, though, is the fact that almost every one of the TechRepublic members responding felt that software companies’ publishers should be held to a higher standard. What exactly did they have to say? Their edited comments appear below.

Not expecting a romantic novel
TechRepublic member RLaframboise wrote, “The biggest complaint I have with the courseware, whether it is for Windows 2000 or not, is the impersonal format, with no tips, best practices, or personal anecdotes from the developers/implementers of the products.”

He continued, “When you are writing a book, even a reference manual, people buy it hoping for a ‘shortcut’ or insight on a situation….Microsoft would double the sale of its books if buyers thought they were getting an inside track, like they do when they buy Sybex, Coriolis, or what-have-you.”

He said he isn’t expecting “a romantic novel,” but added, “some personality would help.”

Why are others’ sales up?
Ivory commented on another concern: “One of the biggest problems [is that] the ‘MOC’ [Microsoft Official Curriculum] stuff [doesn’t] cover the test material. Microsoft said it would do better, but if it did, why are Sybex, ExamCram, and Transcender doing millions of dollars’ worth of business?”

RickVH concurred: “The issue of Microsoft Press is simply answered….If it put out a quality product, there would be no need for Transcenders, etc.”

Hold software company publishers to a higher standard
“I think that they should be held to a higher standard,” wrote RominesJL. “After all, they are part of the company writing the exams. If anybody should know Microsoft’s philosophy and approach, it should be Microsoft Press.”

TechRepublic members often turn to third-party publishers—and not just when studying for Microsoft exams. Mslatin agreed that software company publishers should be held to a higher standard. “Cisco should be the last word on Cisco products and likewise, Novell the authority on NetWare, etc. However, it seems that the third-party training book business is booming. I no longer use Microsoft Press books; I always compare Sybex Study Guides with Cisco Press, and I only use Novell Press books for Novell products.”

Terry wrote, “Absolutely, they should be held to a higher standard. If their own people [at Microsoft] can’t get it right, what hope do the rest of us have?”

Another IT professional, Dan, sent comments that seemingly sum up the other critical e-mails I received. “After reading your article, I’ve come to the conclusion that I must live in an alternate universe. My personal experiences with Microsoft Press material have been much less satisfying. Going all the way back to the advent of Windows 95, when the MS Press self-study guide held the same typographical and content errors as the MOC, I have been disappointed in the content, depth, and reliability of MS Press materials. I certainly do hold MS Press to a higher standard, and in my personal experience, it has rarely met, let alone exceeded, my expectations.”

They’re great!
Not everyone dislikes Microsoft Press’s materials. TechRepublic member Mkoch said, “I’ve used several Readiness Review books during my preparation for the NT 4 track exams. After completing the “official” Microsoft training material, I used several of the Readiness Review series to prepare for my exams. For every exam for which I had a Readiness Review book, I scored better than 900. For my last exam, I couldn’t find a Readiness Review book and ended up with a score of around 800. Now that I’m working on upgrading to Win2K certification, I’ll certainly use every Readiness Review book I can get my hands on. They’re well worth the price.”

Mkoch isn’t alone. Jtalianek wrote, “Recently, I just took and passed Exam 70-210 to become an MCP. I was enrolled in a MOC [class], for I am also pursuing my MCSE Windows 2000 certification. I used the MCSE Readiness Review, in addition to other study material, to prepare for Exam 70-210. The MCSE Readiness Review was very helpful in pointing out the weak areas that need to be studied before taking the exam. The book also gives very good, detailed explanations as to why the answers are correct and incorrect. The electronic assessment test was almost like the real exam itself, which I found very helpful. I am now preparing to take Exam 70-215, and I just purchased the MCSE Readiness Review for that exam.”

Of course, it never hurts to have additional help. Jtalianek added, “I just wanted to express my opinion and agree with you that these books are a good source for preparing for an exam. I, too, agree that it shouldn’t be the only one, though.”

Eckel’s take
I’ve had success with Microsoft Press products. While every certification tool will have issues, others confirm that Microsoft tools can be valuable in earning industry accreditation.

SMayne concluded, “My expectations as to the quality of available materials from the sponsoring organization (in this case, Microsoft) are much higher than with other providers. In the vast majority of cases, I have been very pleased with the titles and other items from Microsoft Press. It’s interesting that we’ve come to accept (but never appreciate, of course) bugs, features, and other eccentricities in the software, but are appalled at any such oversights in ‘printed’ matter (or course materials).”
We look forward to getting your input and hearing your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.