Certification Standoff

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New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, the biggest provider of Microsoft technical training, anticipated a rush of Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSEs) looking for Windows 2000 certification. In mid-2001, Microsoft mandated all MCSEs trained on Windows NT 4.0 to upgrade to Windows 2000 by Dec. 31 or lose their MCSE certification. Microsoft says there are some 400,000 Windows NT 4.0 MCSEs worldwide, and New Horizons estimates that 75 percent would upgrade to Windows 2000. But the rush never came, as partners revolted against the forced upgrade, claiming it was unnecessary and costly. Microsoft caved to the pressure and introduced a new certification classification for system administrators, and extended Windows NT 4.0 certification indefinitely.

The new Microsoft Certified System Administrator (MCSA) status has been well-received by partners; ironically, Microsoft is championing MCSA as the "hottest new certification" in the industry, ignoring the controversy that spawned it. "Rather than decertifying people, we're going to start offering different versions of the credentials," says Anne Marie McSweeney, director of certification and skills assessment at Microsoft. "We're trying to meet the needs of the customer by responding to market conditions."

But, again, larger problems abound for .NET. The recent certification skirmish left many partners jilted and made Microsoft's training system unpopular at a very crucial time for .NET. Gene Longobardi, senior vice president of North American operations at New Horizons, says demand for .NET training is low, although he expects it to increase next year. ".NET is going to be huge, but the developer side of training, which is always a bit tricky, has been slow," he says.

Another obstacle, however, in wooing software developers to .NET is the increasingly narrow architecture and technology standards available for partners. Solution providers looking to break into Web services via XML and SOAP can do so through .NET; those looking for Linux and Java,two of the most increasingly popular technologies in the industry,cannot. Microsoft will most likely never work with Linux, but the decision to drop Java support following a bloody court battle with Sun Microsystems was questioned by software partners and resellers alike. Many saw it as a parting jab at Sun, following a lengthy court battle over Java licensing, instead of a strategic decision.

"No one expected Java to gain the momentum in the marketplace that it has, and if Microsoft had continued to participate, Java would have even more," says BEA Systems CEO Alfred Chuang. "I think it was a mistake for Microsoft to abandon Java. [Moving to software as a service will be hard, and if anyone can do it, it's Microsoft, but the strategy isn't without serious risk."

Microsoft is in a unique position. After a relatively dormant period spent grappling with legal troubles, the company finds itself in some ways quite strong. Yet .NET is clearly troubled. The issue now isn't lawsuits or product bugs, but the art of channel management. With the federal government off its case and many of its competitors ailing, if Microsoft cannot align its channel, the software giant will have no one to pin failure on but itself.

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