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Microsoft expands and discounts training on Vista, Office and Exchange

Microsoft is expanding its training for products it launched this year, plus the blockbusters for 2007, hoping an educated channel will spell success for Vista, Office, Exchange.

Gearing up for the release of Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 in December and January, Microsoft Corp. is expanding the number and availability of its training courses for channel companies – and slashing the cost.

Microsoft it expanding the Partner Skills Plus Initiative that it launched last May, and in which it has invested more than $30 million.

The program was designed to increase the number of Microsoft-certified technicians at both end-user companies and in the channel by making online and in-person training widely available and relatively inexpensive.

Now the company has dropped the price further, cutting 25% off the price of exams for Technology Specialist and Microsoft Professional certifications, as well as tests for certification in the Microsoft Dynamics mid-sized-company CRM application, with additional price cuts on test vouchers, e-learning classes, and deeper discounts for Gold partners.

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Microsoft will also offer more courses, classes and formats of e-learning courses aimed at VARs and IT staffers pursuing Microsoft Certified Professional, Microsoft Certified Solution Developer and Microsoft Certified Application Developer certifications.

"The offers we're making today are to make the skilling and training side better for partners who support Microsoft products," according to Don Nelson, general manager of worldwide partner sales and readiness.

"Approaching our fiscal 2007, which ends June 30, we realized we're in the midst of a big product release," he said. "it started with SQL Server early this year and will continue with Exchange, Office and Vista in the first half of calendar '07.

The current discounts, in what Microsoft describes as Phase I of the program, cover products including: SQL Server 2005, BizTalk Server 2006, Visual Studio 2005, Live Communications Server, Windows Mobile and Microsoft Dynamics.

Phase II will start early in 2007, to coincide with the launch of Vista, Office and Exchange. Discounts and special offers will be available for those classes, though the specifics have not been decided, Nelson said.

"We realized we have a tremendous skills transfer requirement as people begin to master those new skills so, under a plan covering multiple years, we will do things that will improve the situation in the channel for the finding and retaining of talent," Nelson said.

Among other enhancements, Microsoft has improved its e-learning programs so a technician that puts the courses together consistently can get between 60% and 80% of the training online rather than in the classroom.

The company's goal is to increase the number of partner employees with Microsoft certifications from a worldwide total of 102,000 to about 140,000 during fiscal '07, Nelson said.

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