Some vendors suggest you can become an MCSE simply by working through their massive bundles of books, CDs, and practice exams. But can you? We'll tell you which products really pull their weight.

Tons of Fun: Pass That Exam! MCSE in a Box

Some vendors suggest you can become an MCSE simply by working through their massive bundles of books, CDs, and practice exams. But can you? We'll tell you which products really pull their weight.

Product Information

Microsoft Press
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer Core Requirements Training Kit
$299.99
ISBN 1572319054
http://mspress.
microsoft. com

800-MS-Press
800-677-7377

4 books: NT suite, NE

I’ve always assumed that if you want the best technical information about a product, you should get it from the maker. When your Ford truck breaks, you want the manual from Ford. And if you want training geared to help you pass a test, why not go to the people who wrote not only the object of the test, but the test itself—Microsoft?

Physically, this is another one of those products that makes you long for CD-based training. At 12 pounds of material comprising four books (2,880 pages) and six CDs of supplemental information, this might be the geek equivalent of a coffee-table book—impressive to look at but too imposing to utilize.

And then there’s the look. Crack open a book to any page and what do you see? The same typeface, the same layout, the same illustrations that we’ve seen in Microsoft documentation for easily the last 17 years. Is this the Word for DOS book, the Multiplan book, or the QuickBasic book? No, it’s Networking Essentials! For a company that keeps trying to perfect the screen-based user interface, it’s remarkably unimaginative with its paper UI.

But actually, this is a good set of books. As a repository of information for the three NT exams and Networking Essentials, this kit is the real spaghetti sauce—it’s in there.

The four books are Windows NT Network Administration, Windows NT Technical Support, Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 Enterprise Technologies Training, and Networking Essentials, Second Edition. Although the production team is credited for each book, picking out individual authors is impossible.

The Networking Essentials book is organized around chapters, which contain lessons. Each lesson has Q&A exercises scattered throughout, while each chapter ends with a summary and three activities: the Case Study, the Troubleshooter, and the LAN Planner. In each, background information is given, a situation is presented, and you’re expected to recommend, resolve, or design the appropriate solution. Some chapters have lab exercises, which use a combination of printed step-by-step instructions in the book along with a simulated environment from the CD. The Networking Essentials CD also contains animated demo programs for certain chapters. Incidentally, the demos wouldn’t work on my Windows 98 machine with Norton Antivirus enabled.

The Windows NT Technical Support volume covers most of the basics of NT, including installing, configuring, and maintaining the myriad services that make up Windows NT. This book uses labs that follow the standard procedures. In order to do the labs, you need two networked computers capable of running Windows NT. The accompanying CD contains the labs, an AVI presentation on NT Directory Services, exercises that use on-screen simulations, and the Microsoft Self-Assessment Exam for Windows NT Administration.

Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 Enterprise Technologies Training covers enterprise-related issues, such as planning, domains and trusts, server and network monitoring, and connectivity. Chapter 7, "Troubleshooting Tools and Methods," is a fairly comprehensive guide to getting into the guts of NT. Again organized in chapters and lessons, this book has fewer interactive sections or assessments. The CD contains some multimedia presentations that explain some of the concepts, as well as a folder full of screen captures for use with the exercises in the chapter on Network Monitoring.

The final volume, Windows NT Network Administration, examines the network-related features of NT, including many aspects of security (such as users and groups, permissions, and auditing), shared resources such as files and printers, and backup. You need just one computer running Windows NT Server to complete the hands-on exercises in the book, a bit strange for a book on networking. Again, chapters contain lessons, but each chapter concludes with a "Best Practices" section, which highlights some important considerations about the chapter’s information. The CD contains simulations and video presentations, and the assessment exam for Administering Windows NT 4.0.

Probably the best parts of the kit are the two CDs that contain 120-day evaluation copies of Windows NT Server 4.0 and Windows NT Workstation 4.0. At least you get the software with which to experiment and work through the labs and exercises.

I started out this review talking about the amazing consistency of all Microsoft documentation. From that perspective, the books in this set are typical. From another viewpoint, however, this kit is remarkably heterogeneous—each book presents its material and interacts with the reader in a different way. There’s a lot of redundancy, with certain topics (installation, for example) covered in multiple books.

I also commented about the seeming advantage of getting the information from the manufacturer. There’s another side to that, however—other sets in these reviews don’t hesitate to point out inconsistencies, anomalies, and idiosyncrasies of the Microsoft products under discussion. Writers at Microsoft Press don’t seem to have that leeway. The kind of "real world" information that helps these sets go beyond mere test prep tools is missing from this kit. You’ll have to go elsewhere for that education. This set, then, is best for people who want the gospel according to Microsoft.

About the Author

Steve Crandall, MCSE, is a principal of ChangeOverTime, a technology consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio, that specializes in small business and non-profit organizations. He's also assistant professor of Information Technology at Myers College and a contributing writer for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine.

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