Microsoft Certification Public Newsgroups

Should you chase the rabbit down the newsgroup hole in pursuit of your certification?

You've just finished reading three certification books, taken two different practice exams, and spent countless hours configuring your test network-but you're still nervous about taking that Microsoft exam. Then a friend tells you that the Microsoft public newsgroups at msnews.microsoft.com are a great certification resource. You wonder: Are they worth your precious time? Let's find out.

Alice in Wonderland
If you've never subscribed to an NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol, RFC 977) newsgroup, then I highly recommend learning a little something about this unique environment first. Visiting a public newsgroup is a little like visiting a foreign country; it helps to speak the language and know the customs first, or otherwise you can get yourself into a whole lot of trouble.

A newsgroup is nothing more than a discussion forum where you post messages visible to all the subscribers of the forum. A single posted message and all of the responses to that message are hierarchically organized into what is called a thread. You can read and post messages by using a software program called a newsreader, which is a built-in feature of most e-mail clients like Microsoft Outlook (which uses Outlook Express for this purpose).

Most netiquette guides advise you to "lurk" (browse unseen) around a newsgroup first before posting an article so you can ascertain whether the content is relevant, recognize who the major posters are, and to find out what the signal-to-noise ratio (amount of good information vs. bad information) is. If the newsgroup is prone to "flame wars" where posters resort to tit-for-tat exchanges of insults, rants and raves, it may not be worth your time and effort to participate in the group. You especially want to be leery of trolls-not the Harry Potter kind, but individuals who purposely post inflammatory messages and who enjoy the ensuing war of words. I found out first-hand the nastiness of trolling while visiting an unrelated newsgroup a few years back. A certain troll not only insulted me repeatedly but also sent me threatening e-mails that stopped only when I complained to his ISP. You can read up on the fine art of netiquette at www.albion.com/netiquette/index.html. Finally, it's always a good idea to read the newsgroup FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) if there is one.

You should also find out whether or not a newsgroup is moderated-one where an individual (probably a volunteer) known as the "moderator" previews all articles for relevancy and appropriateness before they are posted to the group. This has the effect of filtering out the spam and the trolling. An unmoderated group can be like the Wild West-complete with its own outlaws, lynch mobs and posses. In other words, it is up to the subscribers to self-regulate the content on the site. This is conducive to free speech but at the same time it is prime operating territory for spammers and trolls.

Through the Looking Glass
There are nine Microsoft certification related newsgroups at msnews.microsoft.com:

  • microsoft.public.cert.exam.mcsa
  • microsoft.public.cert.exam.mcsd
  • microsoft.public.cert.exam.mcse
  • microsoft.public.cert.mcdba
  • microsoft.public.cert.mct
  • microsoft.public.certification
  • microsoft.public.certification.networking
  • microsoft.public.certification.visualstudio
  • microsoft.public.certification.winnt-9x
Public newsgroups
Figure 1. Some of the public newsgroups at msnews.microsoft.com. (Click image to view larger version.)

Whereas the purpose for the certification titles newsgroups (MCSA, MCSD, MCSE, etc) is self explanatory, I'm not sure why newsgroups were set up for product specific certifications like Visual Studio (which should fall under the MCSD newsgroup) and networking and winnt-9x (which should fall under the MCSE newsgroup).

None of these groups appear to be moderated and although Microsoft has posted its Rules of Conduct for Microsoft Communities at http://communities.microsoft.com/home/rules.asp, for the most part spammers and trolls have free roam of the land. This is especially noticeable in microsoft.public.cert.exam.mcse, where a group of trolls claiming to hold the MCNGP (Mean Certified News Group Poster) certification have established their own little fiefdom. Woe to the individual who posts to that newsgroup unaware of the evils that lurk there-you will be flamed. I found this newsgroup to have some useful certification related information, such as advice offered by subscribers to a prospective MCSE on what to expect from the very difficult 70-216 Network Infrastructure exam, but between the spammers, trolls and ridiculous number of people looking to swap illegal copies of practice exam software, the sheer amount of irrelevant posts was a little too much to bear. The microsoft.public.certification.networking and microsoft.public.certification.winnt-9x newsgroups are also questionable territory for the same reasons. Fortunately, most of the developer related certification newsgroups are a little more civilized.

Flame war
Figure 2. A flame war in progress on the microsoft.public.cert.exam.mcse newsgroup. (Click image to view larger version.)

What I found of more value for the prospective MCP are the technical newsgroups that are much more self-regulated and relatively free of spam and trolling, including:

  • microsoft.public.win2000.active_directory
  • microsoft.public.win2000.advanced_server
  • microsoft.public.win2000.dns
  • microsoft.public.win2000.general
  • microsoft.public.win2000.new_user
  • microsoft.public.win2000.group_policy
  • microsoft.public.win2000.networking
  • microsoft.public.win2000.security

In the technical newsgroups you'll find very good answers to both simple and complex technical questions. A number of experienced system administrators contribute their in-the-trenches Microsoft product knowledge to these newsgroups and they are an invaluable resource for increasing your Microsoft knowledge base in preparation for an exam. If you find yourself mentally answering some of the posted questions without looking at the expert responses, it is a good indicator that your technical prowess is at the desired level. If you're working hands-on with Microsoft products and are stumped by a technical problem even after searching through TechNet, you can post a question on the relevant newsgroup and receive a response from some subscriber, usually within 24 hours. You should search the newsgroup posts first to see if someone else has already posed the same question. If you are a newbie (new to a newsgroup), you should not be ashamed to post questions no matter how simple they sound as long as you have already made a solid attempt to resolve or search for the answer through other technical sources.

Worth Your Time?
Newsgroups are a great way for you to interact with peers and experts alike and to glean and share knowledge. Some, but not all, of the public newsgroups at msnews.microsoft.com are great resources for helping you to pass a Microsoft exam. Don't waste your time on the heavily spammed and trolled newsgroups like microsoft.public.cert.exam.mcse unless you have the time to sift through all the junk. Hopefully Microsoft will intervene and clean up some of the newsgroups that have already gotten way out of hand. Browse through the technical newsgroups and post your own technical stumpers there. By all means learn proper newsgroup netiquette and lurk a little before submitting your first post. Exploring newsgroups can open up your world to a whole new learning paradigm but, just like Alice's romp through Wonderland, your romp through newsgroups can be both a pleasant and a bittersweet experience.

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Reader Comments:

Fri, Jan 26, 2007 Kline Sphere UK

Dear Mr Carrion,

Well, we're into 2007 and the MCNGP are still going strong, sadly so are all paper certs being churned out by useless boot camps. So despite out best efforts, even in 2007, ms certs are as meaningless as this article.

God Bless

Sat, Jan 13, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous

too true!

Fri, Jun 2, 2006 Sliderule wizard Batcave, CA

This article is a good intro to life in the newsgroups and is still relevant 4 years after it's initial publication. I would certainly recommend the article to a newbie. I also see that while MCNGP posts often provide invaluable information, a disappointing number of their members continue to insert unnecessary insults in their posts.

Fri, Jun 2, 2006 Sliderule wizard Batcave, CA

This article is a good intro to life in the newsgroups and is still relevant 4 years after it's initial publication. I would certainly recommend the article to a newbie. I also see that while MCNGP posts often provide invaluable information, a disappointing number of their members continue to insert unnecessary insults in their posts.

Fri, Mar 3, 2006 Consultant Internet

As you can see, we have outlasted this fellow. Where is he now? Viva La MCNGP!

Fri, May 28, 2004 Sunny India

I have visited the MCSE certification news group recently and i was shocked. This group especially is totally out of control. This is totally hijacked by jokers and pranksters. The MCNGP’s do nothing but humiliate and ridicule other with their unnecessary remarks. I have posted a simple query and in less than 10 minutes I have seen about 15 responses ridiculing me, the Indian culture, my language and my questions. This is preposterous. The next post was from John Eddy [MSFT] “Rules of Conduct for Microsoft Newsgroups” explaining the conduct expected by the posters, bam the next thing you know there are about 10 responses from three people saying the same thing. They all claim to be MCNGP. I have even seen some humorous articles about OBGYN, ridiculing women. When are these guys going to learn? Why doesn’t Microsoft control this? At least provide strict Moderation by a formal Microsoft employee.
Why doesn’t Microsoft control this? At least provide strict Moderation by a formal Microsoft employee.

Thu, Apr 29, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

helloooooooooooooo

Thu, Apr 22, 2004 eddierox newsgroups

YAWN

Fri, Apr 16, 2004 Mister N Anonymous

Excellent article. MS should really clean that newsgroup up. The trolls are numerous.

Wed, Apr 14, 2004 Kat The Hat

Givent hat this article is so out of date, I will not criticize you too harshly. I am positive that if you were to re-visit the newgroup, you would re-write this article in praise and appreciation of the hard efforts of the MCNGP. They not only cleanse the NG of br@indumpers and l@mers, they provide thoughtful, informative answers, with a dash of sarcasm for entertainment. If you want answers relevant to the forum, they will be answered. If you want to cheat on your test or don't know how to google, go flip a burger.

Wed, Apr 14, 2004 Consultant Hell

As you can see, we have stayed the course, where are you at? No longer pumping out bootcamp lamers, hopefully. Your article is a weak, pathetic attempt at drumming up some business to continue to flood the shriveling IT market with useless, untalented zilches. The MCNGP team is thriving and sticking to their guns, and do not plan on going anywhere soon.

Consultant

Wed, Apr 14, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Is there a rating for less than one star? This is the worst case of drivel I have ever seen from this mag... I've cancelled my subscription.

Wed, Apr 14, 2004 Frisbee Fiefdom

Perhaps MCP Magazine could do an updated piece on this subject, but from the perspective of someone who does not run the equivalent of a diploma mill.

Fri, Jan 23, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

good article for a primer.

one beef though:

"...which is a built-in feature of most e-mail clients like Microsoft Outlook (which uses Outlook Express for this purpose)."

does anybody else find fault with this statement?

i don't call running an external, standalone application a 'built-in' feature.

when newsgroups open directly in the Microsoft Outlook Proper client window, THEN i will call it a built-in feature.

Until then, it is some piggyback BS that annoys me to no end.

Wishing M$ would bring Outlook Proper up to spec, and abolish 'Outlook For Dumb***es' forever...

As for why the cert newsgroups contain more low-signal content compared to the 'technical' NGs? Simple: one is populated by "wanna-be's", the other is populated by "already-are's"... :)

Fri, Jan 2, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

LOL. If you would sift through the newsgroup you would find that all that Consultant does is profanely insult people. He is probably the worst of them. He makes a joke of the most serious discussions and in the process hijacks the thread so the other MCNGP morons pipe in and the discussion is gone.

Sat, Dec 6, 2003 Yoshi Anonymous

The main problem is Microsoft allowing people to access newsgroups through a web interface. If this were not the case, then there would be less stupidity, as only the people smart enough to use NNTP would get through.

Sat, Mar 29, 2003 MKRB UK

Spot on article. I use this newsgroup and post advice where i can. But i would never ask a question because of all the insults you get. Hope MS do clean up the boards. They could be a very useful resourec.

Sat, Oct 26, 2002 Eddie Sudbury, MA USA

Microsoft should be ashamed to clain this newsgroup as one of theirs. About 20% of the information is worth reading, that's hardly worth wating time sifting through the garbage for.

Thu, Oct 24, 2002 wannabe Anonymous

They may be annoying, but without the MCNGP the mcse newsgroup would be infested with braindumpers.

Fri, Apr 26, 2002 Network Guru MCP Anonymous

Outstanding piece of prose. Unfortunately, I made the tragic mistake of posting to the MCSE newsgroup BEFORE reading your informative article. As a result, I was flamed and named lamer of the week on the MCNGP website. My professional reputation and self esteem was dessimated as a result of posting to the MCSE group. I feel relieved that this group has been exposed for what they are.

Thu, Apr 25, 2002 Paul Lynch Manchester UK

Well said sir. Those MCNGP lamers truly are a bunch of sad teenage idiot flamers indeed....

Thu, Apr 25, 2002 Doug Anonymous

Carrion runs a boot camp, so it's no wonder he dislikes the "trolls" in the MCSE group. They regularly flame those advertising boot camps and braindumps, keeping the NG free from that crap. Yet, they are willing to answer any real questions posted. Don't forget Ben Smith, from Microsoft, who does an excellent job moderating the NG and even holds weekly chat sessions to personally answer questions. Carrion is just a hack who earns a living devaluing technical certifications.

Thu, Apr 25, 2002 Joe Bob Anonymous

Great article. You exposed the newsgroup for what it really is. A bunch of teenagers who use it for social hour. It is rare that someone will get any help for their certification. The tech groups are much better, have real world administrators and more mature posters who stay on topic.

Thu, Apr 25, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I don't know when you visited the MCSE group, but it is no longer the way you describe. Yes, the MCNGP people are still there, but they basically keep on topic and only flame those who deserve it.

You also fail to mention that these groups now have a Microsoft presence. This may be helping to keep things under control.

Thu, Apr 25, 2002 Consultant Internet

Sir,
If you spent anytime at all, sifting thru this newsgroup, you would come to a quick realization that meanoldman and myself diligently fight in the pursuit of cleansing our industry of braindumpers and theives alike. Should you wish to do an article on the two founding fathers of this elite certification, feel free to contact me and I can arrange this.

Consultant

Thu, Apr 25, 2002 =mëanoldman= Anonymous

If you are in true need of help and are not just there asking dumb questions that could easily be answered by a quick search on the Microsoft website you will get it. The entire MCNGP team has proven to be helpful in this group and only flames when an individual truly deserves it. There is much help to be found here if one asks intelligent questions.

Wed, Apr 24, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I would speak out about the MCNGP but they have ways of retribution and i fear them!
MCNGP is a big deal is you want it too be, so what.

Seriously now, the newsgroup will help those who need help.

Maybe a small FAQ would staunch the flow of "where do i find information on the MC** program" type questions which would assist the few people who try to help from going insane.
As for off topic chat, I dont think MS should waste money having someone moderate every post.

Wed, Apr 24, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Mr Carrion exposes the MCNGP group for what they are: A bunch of trolls. It is about time somebody stood up to the MCNGP and everything the group stands for.

Wed, Apr 24, 2002 Jose Miami FL

Mr. Carrion's article does not reflect the reality of the MCSE NGs, these groups have been a very important support lifeline for me on my quest towards the MCSE.

Cheers,

Jose
MCSA, MCP, A+

Mon, Mar 18, 2002 Peter Sanders London U.K.

Absolutely spot on advice.
I work as a W2K Network Administrator now, while training spent a lot of time on the exam newsgroups before I discovered that the general etc. were much more useful.
I still use the non exam newsgroups on a daily basis to keep in touch.

Thu, Mar 14, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I prefer message boards, such as the www.certtutor.net/forums area, myself.

Mon, Mar 4, 2002 Ramin Perumal Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Good article.

Wed, Feb 27, 2002 RobH Canada

I really enjoyed reading this after a couple of years eXPeriencing various newsgroups. I still consider myself a newbie, but the advice given here rings true.

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