Windows XP certification training hasn't been trumped

When it launched in October of 2001, thousands of consumers and IT professionals lined up at retail stores to purchase Windows XP. By 2006, International Data Corporation measured over 400 million copies in use. As the operating system enters its second decade in the field, web analytics company Net Applications estimates that Windows XP has only recently dipped below 50 percent market share.

Microsoft officials have stressed their desire to see customers migrate to newer editions of its flagship OS, suggesting an April 2014 end-of-life deadline. After that, Microsoft will no longer issue security updates or provide end-user support for Windows XP. However, the vast number of enterprise clients still running XP make persistent demands on IT professionals who troubleshoot and develop applications for the operating system. Even after Windows 7 overtakes XP on the deployment leaderboard, Windows XP certification will play a major role in the careers of professionals who support PC users.

Windows XP's features drive user demand

Even though Windows Vista and Windows 7 offer improved speed, performance, and usability, users cite specific benefits when they tell researchers why they're reluctant to give up Windows XP:

  • It has backbone. Built on the infrastructure that made Windows 2000 and Windows NT popular among enterprise users, Windows XP broke new ground for functionality in the office and at home. Though newer versions of Windows offer updated graphics, a Gartner study found that many users feel XP marks a sweet spot of usability and performance.
  • It does more, faster. The older operating system requires fewer system resources than its newer counterparts, making it ideal for energy-efficient netbooks and low-cost office desktop PCs.
  • It's secure. IT professionals have built a stable security ecosystem around Windows XP features like Internet Protocol Security and Kerberos V5. Switching to a new operating system can cost some companies millions of dollars in security and compliance auditing.

Although Microsoft emphasizes new Windows features in its press releases and on its website, user reluctance to switch helps ensure continued demand for Windows XP certifications among IT professionals.

Windows XP certification lives on

In keeping with its intentions to sunset Windows XP, Microsoft ended its formal support and sponsorship for Windows XP certification in the summer of 2011. The last remaining certification supporting Win XP, Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST), confirmed a professional's ability to support both the operating system and its desktop applications. Although the MCDST certification does not expire, Microsoft has urged IT professionals to upgrade their Windows XP certifications to newer equivalents:

  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS). Redmond offers versions of the MCTS certification for many of its platforms. A Windows MCTS must understand how to deploy new desktop and server systems, including managing migrations from Windows XP.
  • Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP). An MCITP must show mastery of Microsoft technology, demonstrating broad skills that can help corporate users manage a switch from Windows XP to a newer operating system.

Despite the new certifications' focus on current versions of Windows, most IT training programs still offer the same training used to prepare students for Windows XP certification. Although Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 share many key components, IT professionals who can support the broadest (and oldest) combination of technology stand the best chance of success in the IT support job market.

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