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Microsoft finally gets it

Retiring MCSEs was a bad idea; it would have alienated Microsoft’s most loyal customer base and forced companies to other platforms. 01/10/15 ReleVents hed: Microsoft finally gets it dek: Retiring MCSEs was a bad idea. by James Mathewson

“James, you’ve got to do something,” insisted Laura, our network administrator. “You’ve got to convince Microsoft to keep NT 4.0 MCSE certifications valid.” I explained that I would do what I could, but I have trouble getting Microsoft to return my calls, let alone listen to what I say when I get through. Still, I felt for her. Our company has no plans to upgrade to Windows 2000, and forcing her to upgrade her skills in order to retain her certification seemed like an enormous waste of time and money. She’s happy here and neither wants nor needs to learn about Windows 2000 right now. Yet she has, just to stay certified in Microsoft server environments.

Hundreds of thousands of people like Laura faced retirement at the hands of Microsoft. But as is widely reported, with Microsoft’s forced migration deadline fast approaching, only 10 percent of current MCSEs have upgraded. I’ve ranted about forced migration before, and my argument has always been that Microsoft will lose a huge percentage of its server business if it forces companies to upgrade. Unlike the desktop, it has real competition in server environments from the likes of Linux, NetWare, and Unix.

Forcing the talent base to upgrade is tantamount to forcing the companies themselves to upgrade. Talent, after all, is what boosted Windows NT ahead of NetWare all those many years ago. I’ve read reports of MCSEs avoiding Windows 2000 certification as a matter of principle, and instead training in Cisco, Linux, and even Novell systems. Companies could easily go to other platforms as the talent base shifts to Linux or NetWare.

Whether it listened to me or not, Microsoft finally listened to its talent base and backed away from forced migration, as reported on Computerworld and other sites on Thursday. It now will have two tracks, one for NT 4 and one for 2000, in addition to a new Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator certification, which will only cover less sophisticated aspects of Windows 2000.

I’m not optimistic that this signals the beginnings of a trend for Microsoft, however. Microsoft has often used one division of its company to boost sales for another. Here, it was clearly trying to use its training division to boost sales of Windows 2000. It failed miserably at this. But it only backed down from the plan at the very last moment, after failure was unavoidable. And thousands of network administrators like Laura needlessly got themselves certified in 2000 because of the threat of retirement. Microsoft will continue to use its OS division to boost sales of its applications, unless Justice has its way. It will continue to use every product in its arsenal to attack AOL and thereby boost MSN. And I’m sure it will try to use training to boost sales in the future. That is how it has won the war. But at least users won one battle, and we can celebrate that.

James Mathewson is editor of ComputerUser magazine and

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