What is a Microsoft Certified Partner (or MCP)? An MCP is a private firm that offers customers Microsoft related products and services. These companies work worldwide to offer a range of Microsoft services under the Microsoft umbrella, yet remain independent. These services and products could include anything from education to technical support to original equipment manufacturer software to specialist software. Why would anyone want to become a Microsoft Certified Partner? Well, there are benefits. First of all, MCPs receive information about Microsoft products earlier than other users. They also receive a higher level of technical support and less expensive access to Microsoft software licenses. How does Microsoft benefit from this program? Microsoft has a group of very dedicated providers who are smart, and run modern businesses and are always ready to serve Microsofts clients needs. The certification program is aimed at high-level businesses that can integrate, service or apply Microsoft technologies and platforms. There are two types of MCPs – a Microsoft Certified Partner and a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. The latter is accreditation given to companies that pass much more stringent test to qualify for the status but also accordingly; they have a lot more resources available to them because of this. Every potential Microsoft Certified Partner must have been in the business for five years and there are several tests that they have had to have passed. They will also need to have proven skills in the field of work in which they specialize. These partners are awarded access to discounts that are necessary for them to work in their specialty field. Staff of Gold Certified Partners must have the ability to plan, design, implement and manage customized computing solutions and environments around Microsoft technologies. The gold certification program includes a wide range of focus areas, including business intelligence, collaborative solutions, hosting, application services, learning solutions and security solutions. Microsoft certified partners pay an annual membership fee. In return they are allowed access to software licenses, earlier access to Microsoft beta software and various kinds of technical and developer information they are able to use in their own places of work and also with customers. Microsoft Certified partners also get access to up to 10 copies of Office XP Developer Edition, 20 copies of the Windows XP professional operating system and between 10 and 20 client access license seats for server access. When Microsoft releases new platforms or software, MCPs must upgrade their certifications, which ensures that these partners are kept up on Microsoft releases and that their certification is up-to-date. A Microsoft Certified Partner also has the advantage of having access to 24/7 Microsoft support. This gives them the knowledge and technical skills to give improved service and support to all of their customers.