Just when you thought you had your new Windows 2000 MCP or MCSE track figured out, along comes Windows XP. Formerly known as Whistler (named after a popular ski mountain in British Columbia), Windows XP brings its own certification concerns.

Don’t miss an installment!

Receive Erik Eckel’s IT Certification Corner in your e-mail box each Friday and catch every column, along with timely tips and reviews not found on the site! It’s easy, and it’s free. Just go to the TechMails page and sign up for IT Certification Corner to ensure that you keep up-to-date on the latest certification tips, shortcuts, news, and more!

Two weeks ago, Microsoft announced, with little fanfare, that it is “integrating Microsoft Windows XP for the enterprise and ‘Whistler’ (the code name for the server product following Microsoft Windows 2000 Server) exams into the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification.”

Will Windows XP shorten your Windows 2000 certification lifespan?
On the surface, everything related to the Windows XP certification looks good. According to Microsoft, IT professionals can complete their Windows 2000 certifications using a combination of Windows 2000 and Windows XP enterprise exams.

Further, Redmond recommends that Windows NT 4.0 MCSEs continue to train and earn certification on the Windows 2000 platform. Microsoft claims that most IT professionals won’t be prepared to deploy and administer Windows XP in the enterprise unless they possess expertise in Windows 2000.

While I’ve spent minimal time working with the first Whistler beta, my experience with it leads me to agree with this assessment. I’ve spent more than a year and a half working with Windows 2000, beginning with one of the first betas in September 1999. Whistler is very much like Win2K, albeit with architectural improvements and a new interface.

What troubles me is the fact that Windows XP won’t be released until later in 2001, if Microsoft hits its targets. Published reports indicate Microsoft’s beta dates are slipping, which could jeopardize the final release date. In fact, I think all of us would be more surprised if they released it on time than if it was delayed. Thus, it stands to reason that Windows XP’s exams will be even further behind. Right now, the first enterprise XP tests aren’t expected to arrive until late this year, at the earliest.

Why does that worry me? Because the Windows 2000 exams will be a year old when the XP tests come out. I fear that many IT professionals like myself will study Windows 2000 and earn another MCSE from Microsoft, only to hear soon thereafter that several of our exams are expiring. Only this time, instead of hearing TCP/IP in the Enterprise is expiring, we’ll be hearing our Win2K certs are going the way of overnight dot-com millionaires. All we will be left with is a handful of Windows XP MCPs on our resumes.

Questionable timing
The timing of the Windows XP release is also worrisome from a strictly technical perspective. Many enterprises haven’t yet deployed a Windows 2000 server infrastructure. Some are just now migrating to Windows 2000 Professional on client systems.

A very large number of organizations haven’t had ample time to fully study the impact of Windows 2000 on their networks. Plus, the stagnating economic environment has forced companies to focus more tightly on improving existing efficiencies. Every day you read about companies laying off employees. In some cases, IT budgets are now actually being cut.

In a recent Forbesarticle, columnist John C. Dvorak wrote that if he were upgrading a corporate network, he would wait to purchase systems that come bundled with Windows XP. I believe that’s severe, considering the fact that countless organizations haven’t even deployed Win2K servers yet. Remember, Microsoft says that in most cases, Win2K expertise is required to work with XP. I think folks are kidding themselves if they believe you can jump directly from Windows NT to Windows XP.

It’s for this reason that Windows XP certification is so important. IT professionals, whether we want to or not, must develop skill sets on both the Win2K and WinXP platforms.

The timeline
Windows XP is due to ship in several forms:

  • A home edition, for consumers
  • A professional edition, for enterprise desktop use
  • Several server platforms

The server version is likely to ship in a 64-bit version, as could a client edition. The other platforms will be 32-bit. All will use the Microsoft NT kernel. You get the idea: The DOS legacy is finally dead.

The home edition is expected to support only a single processor. However, the professional version will support two. The home edition should also support upgrading from Win9x or Windows Millennium Edition.

The first Windows XP client Release Candidate is scheduled for April release. If targets are hit, the WinXP client could reach final release form in June, putting it on store shelves in the second half of the year. But don’t look for the server platform until the first quarter of 2002.

What’s really new in Windows XP?
Whistler Beta 1 features a striking new user interface. Many people hate it. I hear it’s being updated in future builds, but I won’t know for sure until March 14, when Beta 2 is scheduled for release.

The new user interface is XML powered and offers an “airy” view. The new UI is labeled Luna, either after the Moon Goddess or to honor the women who lived in a tree to protest logging. The interface is greatly streamlined and simplified. Win2K’s personalized menus were only the first step in protecting users from themselves. In Whistler, at least in the client version, IT professionals have to navigate even more cumbersome menus to arrive at applets and programs.

For example, instead of having two-dozen applets in Control Panel, you’ll find eight. Thus, you’ll have to drill down more in order to access an applet.

There will be many new enhancements and improvements in Windows XP. For instance, expect the following:

  • A significantly streamlined graphical user interface
  • Support for Transmeta Crusoe processors
  • Remote diagnosis and administration of XP systems via encrypted Internet connections
  • New media capabilities, with real-time voice and video capabilities
  • Enhanced mobility
  • No more shared DLLs
  • Active Directory improvements
  • A new low-end Web server platform
  • A new Automated System Recovery feature
  • Increased scripting and command-line support
  • Simplified digital video and photography support
  • Enhanced stability

What to expect
Microsoft will heavily promote Windows XP. Look for them to really push the consumer OS first, as it will be the first operating system built for home use that incorporates the Windows NT kernel.

Enterprises won’t fully adopt Windows XP in 2001 or even 2002. Office XP, which will replace Office 2000, is another story. As many companies purchase new machines, they’ll receive Office XP. Therefore, support personnel will need to get up to speed on the new office suite’s perks and quirks. And they’ll need to do so fairly quickly. It should be released next quarter.

Windows XP integration will take longer. Typically, a Windows OS takes about three years to build market dominance. Therefore, I recommend that you continue to move forward with your Windows 2000 training and certifications. This will be an invaluable foundation. There will be plenty of time to focus on Windows XP later. Just keep in mind that the world of IT certification is becoming more fluid than ever. Gone are the days when a certification lasted forever. And considering the pace of change in IT, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

How do you feel about the pending arrival of Windows XP?

If you would like to share your opinion on how this affects your MCSE training and certification or your company’s network, start a discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.