There was a time when becoming a Microsoft Certified Systems' Engineer (MCSE) bought with it more than just industry recognition, a certificate, and a pin badge. Up to December 31, 1999, it also bought a year's free subscription to Microsoft's TechNet CD collection. Now, for reasons only Microsoft may know, newly certified MCSEs no longer get this benefit. Should you spring for your own subscription? This article will help you decide.
What is TechNet?
TechNet is Microsoft's electronic library of technical information, software, and utilities, which are published and updated on a monthly basis. Subscribers get a groovy CD folder to hold the TechNet disks, and each month a pack of updates are mailed out, along with a list detailing which disks are to be replaced by the new issue.
The TechNet CD product includes service packs, service releases, resource kits for a wide range of Microsoft products, training materials, drivers, option packs, utilities, white papers, deployment resources, evaluation products, a technical information knowledge base, and even transcripts of Bill Gates' speeches. A list of the current TechNet CDs and their contents can be found at the following location: http://www.microsoft.com/technet/subscription/masterlist/cdfiles.asp .
|"For many professionals, the attraction of TechNet CD will most likely be the convenience of having all the utilities, drivers, and knowledge in one package, rather than the extra content. "|
To make it easy to keep track of the additions and updates each month, the Technical Information disc has a "What's new" page highlighting new material. Another useful feature is the capability to compile a list of favorites, Internet Explorer style, so frequently accessed information can be navigated easily.
According to Microsoft, around 95% of the TechNet CD content is available online at the TechNet Web site, which is the company's main justification for withdrawing it from the MCP benefits program. But it may be the 5% that isn't included that can justify the cost of a subscription to the CD version. For example, the Microsoft TechNet online site provides access to 23 Windows 2000 Server resource kit utilities. The resource kit included on the TechNet CD set includes all 300.
It is not just the content that makes TechNet CD a valuable tool, but the resources available for accessing the information as well. The search engine included on the CD provides more flexibility in searching for information than its Internet equivalent; it's particularly useful when you're troubleshooting difficult-to-determine problems. The full-text searching facility is very powerful and when you do locate a relevant article, the links often relate to service packs, utilities, or drivers that are included within the TechNet CD collection.
Though the value of the extra 5% of information may be debatable, the convenience of having the TechNet CD set is not. With service packs growing ever larger and more frequent, the attraction of having them mailed to you on a monthly basis may make the subscription fee worth it. Take, for example, the network installation package of the Windows 2000 Service Pack 1, which clocks in at a healthy 87 MB. Those with a slow connection to the Internet will be looking at long download times. How much more convenient is it to simply drop a CD into a drive?
Versions and pricing
For more information or to subscribe, visit the TechNet Web site at www.microsoft.com/technet.
TechNet is available in four different versions, but most IT professionals will be interested in either the Standard Edition (which includes all the material detailed above) or the Plus Edition (which adds releases of Microsoft beta software to the mix). For those who need it, an International version is available for both the Standard and Plus packages; it includes service packs and other utilities in foreign languages.
Pricing for a yearly TechNet subscription starts at $299 plus tax and shipping for a single-user version; the Plus version costs $449. The shipping charge of $35 is a little on the high side, but when you reason that subscribers are sent the original package and 11 updates, it seems reasonable. Additional single-user licences are available for $39.99.
Businesses can take advantage of server licenses for both TechNet and TechNet Plus; they cost $699 and $849, respectively. For academic institutions, Microsoft offers a discounted version of the basic TechNet. Subscriptions can be purchased on the Web or through your local Microsoft Reseller. As a no-extra-cost alternative, subscribers can opt to receive some parts of the TechNet collection on DVD rather than CD, which reduces the overall number of discs in the set while retaining the same content.
Is it worth the cost?
So the question is, with much of the software and resources included in TechNet CD available on the Web, is a subscription worth the money? Well, for those working in a single location with a high-speed Internet connection, it might be a hard one to call; but individuals who travel to various locations will find the collection a valuable and often-used tool. You could reason that it's possible to download all the components needed and burn them to CD, but who needs the hassle? On top of that, the cost of the blank media and time involved makes for a close call on the possible savings.
If you work the sums on a monthly basis, the basic TechNet version costs less than $28 a month including shipping, which seems like a reasonable price to pay for such a useful, convenient, and complete set of resources. In addition, although Microsoft withdrew the offer of a free copy of TechNet to MCPs and MCSEs, those with the certifications can still receive a 50% discount on the first year of subscription.
For many professionals, the attraction of TechNet CD will most likely be the convenience of having all the utilities, drivers, and knowledge in one package, rather than the extra content. And although everyone has come to rely on the Internet in their hour of need, the one time you may really want that service pack or driver may just be the time that you are troubleshooting your failing Internet connection. //
Drew Bird (MCT, MCNI) is a freelance instructor and technical writer. He has been working in the IT industry for 12 years and currently lives in Kelowna, Canada. You can e-mail Drew at email@example.com.