Contrary to a common misconception, Windows XP is a desktop (client) product and not a foundation or server technology in the same way that Windows NT is and Windows .Net will be in the future. Therefore, there will be no certification program for Windows XP. However, XP training will be closely associated with the Windows 2000 and Windows .Net certification programs.
Microsoft technical community manager Derek Kerr says that despite what a lot of people think, Windows XP is not the next version of NT - Windows .Net is. "There is no Windows XP family per se, just Windows XP and Office XP, and that is probably a branding mistake by Microsoft."
However, there will be XP training programs for the channel, although they will be different to those offered in the past.
Kerr says Microsoft has made several changes to its training program. "There is no longer any such thing as a Windows solutions provider. We did away with the solutions provider' term five or six months ago in favour of a Microsoft Certified Partner program, which is available at various levels."
To be part of the program, channel members have to have a set level of Microsoft-certified staff and this year the channel has been rushing to get staff certification upgraded to Windows 2000 before the December 31 deadline.
On October 12, Microsoft announced that, contrary to previous statements, Microsoft Certified Engineers on NT would remain certified after December 31. However, the relaxation of the certification program did not apply to Microsoft Certified Partners, who still have to update their certification to Windows 2000 to remain in the MCP program.
"Technology advances so fast we have to have this process of cleaning up our channel's capabilities and they have to be certified for Windows 2000 by December 31," Kerr says.
"We are quite tough at Microsoft because we want the channel to give customers the best service possible. We therefore insist that our partners are certified on the programs that they are selling. We are tough about taking people into our partner program and we will tell them that if they do not have enough Windows 2000 System Engineers, they cannot be part of the program.
"Currently around 44 per cent of our channel are either ready to move over to Windows 2000 certification, are capable of delivering it or are trained up on it."
As part of the changes, the company has also introduced a new certification, called Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator, that fits between Microsoft Certified Professional and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.
"It is for professionals who implement, manage and trouble-shoot in networks and systems environments and it is for the Windows 2000 and .Net platforms, but the certification does not backdate to NT 4.0."
Kerr says that while there is no certification for Windows XP per se, there are specific training courses for the channel and "hands-on labs" that range from three or four hours to five days with charges averaging $450 to $500 a day.
Microsoft also offers a free channel program where some resellers are invited to attend sessions and learn about XP. The sessions have both sales and technical aspects.
"We also have things like our Insights roadshows and TechNet update programs as well as special interest groups. So we have a number of ways to get information and training to the channel. Our top resellers will also get invited to a free course in computer technical training," says Kerr.
The backbone for Microsoft training and certification courses is provided through its CTEC or certified trainer channel, which is the company's primary delivery mechanism for training solutions.
Microsoft CTECs must adhere to several program requirements that differentiate them from the wider Certified Partner community. These include having a minimum of two Microsoft Certified Trainers employed exclusively, meeting quarterly minimum courseware purchase requirements, and being subject to site inspections and audits.
There are now 18 CTEC organisations with a total of 35 sites around Australia that are preparing XP courses. Some have developed their own one-day workshops based on XP several months prior to the full courses being released.
Andrew Major, channels and alliances manager of one of the largest CTECs, Spherion, says there will be a number of courses available and CTECs are already delivering Course 2290, which covers pre-installing Windows XP for OEMs.
It is a one-day course based on Windows XP Professional and the Windows XP OEM Pre-installation Kit and is designed for professionals who have to install and configure both Windows XP Professional and Home editions.
"There will be an equivalent course for non-OEMs called Deploying Windows XP Professional (Course 22500) and there will be a five-day in-depth course called Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Windows XP Professional (Course 2272). But there will not be any certification exams available until next year when the .Net server system gets released. That's why we have been encouraging people with NT 4.0 certification to take the Windows 2000 upgrade path because, although Windows XP is the desktop product, the related server products will not be available until early next year."
The prices of Spherion's course will vary according to the location, but they will cost between $450 and $500 per day.
"Deploying Windows XP Professional is the one we would expect most resellers would want to send their people to. You need knowledge of Windows NT or 2000, network knowledge and some general knowledge about a few other areas such as Active Directory and Microsoft Management Console. It is a technical course, not a retail sales training set-up."
Major says the courses differ from equivalent courses offered for previous versions of Windows because of the different technology and different ways of implementing it. "We expect there will be a spike in demand for courses over the next few weeks and then it will settle down."
He says demand will depend on how many large companies and government departments decide to implement XP, as they are Spherion's main markets.
Another of the large CTECs, Dimension Data, has been selected to conduct the Hands-On Labs for the channel. The labs will consist of a series of half-day sessions, which will cost $199 plus GST each.
Frederique Dennison, a product manager for Dimension Data Learning Solutions, says that because XP technology is part of the .Net technology, Microsoft has developed the labs to introduce the new technologies and products to the IT community. She says the labs are not training courses, but a product presentation to help people understand the technologies.
There are 10 labs, covering a range of technologies related to XP, ranging from Windows 2000 Server to an introduction to .Net and the ISA2000 server. Included among them will be one specifically targeting Windows XP. The eXPerience Windows XP Professional lab will give people a first-hand look at the Professional and Home editions, and is designed to illustrate some of the key benefits the new operating system will offer users and technical professionals, Dennison says.
With three specialist courses, 10 Hands-On Labs and a host of roadshows and introductory sessions, the channel will have plenty to choose from and there will be no shortage of information available about XP. Microsoft Certified Partners should check with their local Microsoft representative to identify which courses their certified staff need to attend to maintain their MCP status.