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MS Press and
A sneaky source for "Date Leaks?"

People with too much time on their hands (or unusually attentive readers) may remember a tip I wrote for in July, 2002. Therein, I used information about the release of an upcoming Microsoft Press book about a forthcoming exam on migrating directory services (70-272) to shed light on the release date for an exam that wasn't yet public knowledge. Two weeks ago, I found some release information about a Microsoft Press title—specifically MCSA Self-Paced Training Kit: Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows .NET Server (Exam 70-275)—that could have led me to speculate when Server .NET might be released. Of course on November 18, Bill Gates went public in his Comdex keynote that Server .NET would be released in April, 2003, and invalidated the conclusion that the Microsoft Press data would otherwise have led me to.

Nevertheless, advance publication dates remain a great potential source of advance information on software releases, even though they're not always right. I've found that hunting through press releases at publisher Web sites also works, but because Amazon routinely asks for planned pub dates on forthcoming titles—and lists that information on its Web pages—it can sometimes help me 'guesstimate' related software release dates better than other sources can.

Conspiracy buffs everywhere need only hear an Amazon page on a forthcoming title say something like this: "This item will be published on January 29, 2003." to start drawing all kinds of interesting conclusions. For those familiar with the normal flow of exams that are tied to specific product releases, such information can trigger all kinds of predictions, and get one's speculative juices flowing freely.

Now that Bill Gates has told us that Server .NET will ship some time in April, 2003, for example, I believe it's possible to apply a kind of calculus to the certification exams that must follow in its wake. This same exercise works when the dates are leaked on Amazon or on a publisher's Web site, so follow this reasoning with me to understand what might happen next April, or soon after:

1) Microsoft has made it a priority to release products, plus related exams and books, within a 30 day period of each other over the last two years.

2) When Windows XP shipped, the 70-270 exam followed two days later, and the MS Press titles were officially released the same day the exam made its debut.

3) Amazon requests release dates from publishers so they can persuade or entice book buyers to place advance orders, and let them know roughly when to expect delivery of those titles.

4) Amazon doesn't make dates up; it gets them from publishers. And if anybody's entitled to find out in advance about Microsoft product schedules and ship dates, it's Microsoft Press.

Consider that Mr. Gates's "April" date is most likely to translate into the last Friday in April (4/25/2003), and some interesting possibilities start to come into focus. Here's what my assumptions and observations tell me to expect where Server .NET exams are concerned:

* Exam objectives normally appear 30-45 days before the exam goes public. If the product ships 4/25/2003, that means objectives should appear no earlier than March 7, nor later than March 21. Even if the product ships as early as possible in April (though an "April Fool's" date of April 1 is pretty unlikely) that puts objectives in a window from February 14 to 28.

* Beta invitations should go out in the relatively near future. Microsoft betas run for about a week; lately, they've been held 60-90 days before commercial release dates. Given 4/25, that translates into February 3 through March 3; given 4/1, that translates into January 2 through February 2. Either way, betas are coming soon!

* Rumors of successor exams to the "designing core exams" are heating up. Realistically, I think this applies only to 70-219, 220, and 221 (226 isn't getting much uptake in the market). I expect these to follow 60-90 days after product release or in the June-July to July-August time frame. Look for more rumors about successors (I keep hearing about 70-291 as a related exam number, for some reason) to start flying in the near future!

Thus, the details of the next round of MCP exams keeps getting clearer. I think we'll start to get an idea of what's going to happen with other .NET topics and .NET versions of BackOffice component exams (SQL Server, ISA Server, and so forth) in the early part of next year, as Microsoft starts showing more of its certification cards for the second half of 2003.

For those interested in the announcements that led to my initial flights of fancy, please visit the MS Press official blurb on the book (which says only "Coming Soon"), and the Amazon page that provides a firmer date.

There are many interesting tea leaves to read about what's coming soon, if you only know where to look! Please also let Mr. Gates's announcement serve as a necessary warning that inference is never as good as hard information…

This week's article by
Ed Tittel
MKN Contributing Author
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