The Year 2000 and Your PC

 by Peter Huemer, User-Friendly Computing

 What is the year 2000 problem?

 The origin of the Year 2000 problem is simple to explain. Many
 computers were programmed to record only the last two digits
 of the year for any date they encountered. So, they represent
 1999 as "99" and 2000 as "00". This was not an oversight.
 Computer experts made a deliberate decision to save what
 was, at the time, valuable memory. As a result, some
 applications could misinterpret the year "00" as 1900, 1980, or
 some other date.

 Date arithmetic is just one of the problems that will crop up at
 the turn of the century. Some systems were programmed years
 ago when the Year 2000 seemed a long way off, so "99" and
 "00" weren't treated like real dates. Some programmers used
 these two convenient, easily remembered codes for assigning
 a special status, to a customer or an invoice. For example, a
 birth year of "99" might be a code indicating that the customer
 is deceased, so he or she should not receive any marketing
 solicitations. A birth year of "00" might indicated that a
 customer has declared bankruptcy, so he or she should not be
 extended any credit.

 If all this weren't bad enough, there is another problem - the
 year 2000 is a leap year. The last millennium leap year was
 1600. A leap year only occurs at the turn of the century every
 400 years, and some applications may have failed to
 accommodate this. As we all know, if a year is divisible by four
 it is as leap year, so February has 29 days. That may be the
 rule that we all go by, but - like many rules- this rule has an
 exception. When a year is divisible by 100, it is not a leap
 year. Unfortunately, there is also an exception to the
 exception. If the year is also divisible by 400, then it is a leap
 year. So, 1900 was not a leap year and neither is 2100, but the
 Year 2000 is a leap year. While many programmers knew about
 the exception to the rule, fewer knew about the exception to
 the exception. As a result, not all computers are programmed
 to recognize the Year 2000 as a leap year. Because of this leap
 year issue, we may not see all of our Year 2000 computer
 problems on January 1, 2000. Some computers won't begin to
 misbehave until February 29, 2000.

 Broad Impact of the Year 2000 problem

 When the year 2000 arrives, many date-arithmetic calculations
 are likely to go awry. For example, if you make a 10-minute
 long-distance telephone call beginning at 11:55 p.m. on
 December 31, 1999, you would expect the phone company to
 compute the charges by subtracting the starting time of the
 call from the ending time. But its computer might calculate the
 duration of your call by subtracting the "99" for 1999 from the
 "00" of 2000, which lead the computer to believe that your call
 lasted for a negative time period,, i.e., a period of minus 99
 years. Depending on how the computer was actually
 programmed, this could lead to a number of wildly incorrect
 results: negative charges, astronomically late charges, or even
 some kind of computer system failure.

 The year 2000 problem is more than just a technical problem.
 It raises a wide range of personal, financial, professional, and
 legal issues. Examples of some of the systems which may be
 impacted by the Year 2000 problem include: expiration dates
 (driver's license, credit cards, subscriptions, drugs), air traffic
 control, reservations (hotel, air travel), automated vehicle
 maintenance notifications, traffic light scheduling, length of
 overdue invoices, ATM/bank access, cash plan, utilities
 (heating, ventilation, water, sewage, telephones, answering
 machines, and air conditioning), failure of chip-dependent
 electronic equipment (VCRs, telephones, elevators, security
 systems, fire alarms, fax machines, copiers, etc.), IRS record
 keeping, payment mortgages and bank notes, disruption of
 e-mail and postal communications, reliability of vendors and
 business (banks, utility companies, pension plans, insurance
 policies and coverage, security companies, communications

 It also introduces a variety of potential legal issues resulting
 from failure of companies to deliver financial or investment
 agreements, failure of software/hardware companies to be
 compliant, death or injuries resulting from failed equipment.
 Many insurance companies will exclude coverage for Y2K
 problems for policies issued or renewed after January 1, 1999.
 There is no clear legal definition of what constitutes a valid
 Y2K claim. Some attorneys believe that unless a business takes
 "reasonable and prudent" measures to avoid Y2K bugs, that
 business could be liable for any hard or damage that their
 customers or suppliers may incur.

 The Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act was
 passed by the U.S. Senate and won House approval. President
 Clinton signed the bill into law. The bill is supposed to
 encourage companies to share information about year 2000
 preparations by freeing businesses from liability over
 statements they make about products or plans to fix the
 millennium problem. About 40 industry groups support the law,
 although the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and other
 critics in the legal community oppose it, saying that it does
 not provide enough protection for consumers

 How does the Year 2000 problem affect my PC?

 Your computer system consists of several components:
 applications (such as word processing, spreadsheet,
 database and other applications), an operating system
 (such as Windows(r) 95), a basic input/output system
 (BIOS) and a central processing unit (CPU). When your
 application requires a date, it requests one from the
 operating system. The operating system, in turn,
 requests the date from the BIOS, which requests it from
 the CPU clock. The CPU returns the date to the BIOS,
 which may interpret the date before it reports it to the
 operating system. The operating system may then
 format the date before reporting it to the application. If
 any one of these components fails to properly recognize
 the date, the application may fail to store and display
 the date correctly. To evaluate year 2000 compliance,
 your PC must be checked on several fronts:

  Hardware: BIOS, CPU,RTC

  Operating System: DOS, OS/2, Windows
  3.x/95/98/NT, Netware

  Software Applications: Quicken, Quickbooks,
  Peachtree, Paradox, Quattro Pro, Access, Lotus 1-2-3

  Application Data: Access, dBase, Paradox,
  FoxPro, Excel, Lotus, QuattroPro, Symphony

 Some PCs reset the system date to 1980 or other invalid
 dates when the computer reaches the year 2000. This
 problem is created by flaws in the computer hardware
 and in low-level BIOS software provided by other
 vendors. PCs older than two years will most likely need a
 manual date change in the year 2000. Some will also
 need a BIOS update. Note that all Apple computers made
 since 1984 are year 2000 compliant

 Currently, about 25 percent of corporate PCs rely on
 non-Y2K-compliant DOS, Netware, and OS/2. Although
 Windows 98 is compliant, be aware that Windows
 95/NT and Novell Netware 3.12, 4.10, and 4.11 are not
 Year 2000 compliant unless a Y2K compliant patch is
 applied. You can download the Windows 95 patch,
 WIN95Y2K.EXE, from

 Several commonly-used applications have been
 identified as being non-compliant, including: Quicken
 (versions prior to 6.0), QuickBooks (versions prior to
 6.0), Peachtree (versions prior to 6.0), Paradox
 (versions prior to 7.0), Quattro Pro (versions prior to
 7.0), Microsoft Access (version 2.0), Lotus 1-2-3 for
 DOS (early versions), Frontpage (versions 1.1 and 97),
 Site Server (version 2.0), Office Professional (version
 4.XX) , Internet Explorer (versions prior to 4.0), Visual
 Basic Standard (versions prior to 5.0), Word for DOS
 (version 5.0), Works (versions prior to 4.5)

 Several popular versions WordPerfect have not yet been
 tested for Year 2000 compliancy, including versions 5.1
 and 5.2 for DOS/Windows. Although WordPerfect 6.1
 has minor compliancy issues (see, Corel
 reports that WordPerfect 7 and 8 are year 2000
 compliant applications. Other applications which have
 been identified as compliant include: Netscape
 Communicator 4.0, Netscape Navigator 2.02 and higher,
 Internet Explorer 4.0, Word 97, Norton Antivirus 4.0,
 Norton Utilities for Windows (versions 2.0 and higher).
 For a Y2K compliance summary of other common PC
 applications, refer to:

 How your application stores and displays dates, as well
 as how you enter, edit, export and import dates, can
 affect how your application handles date information
 before, during and after the year 2000. If an application
 stores dates in a format that includes the century
 information (i.e. 1998 instead of 98, or 2002 instead of
 02), it should have little difficulty displaying and
 processing dates after the turn of the century. If the
 application stores dates in a format that does not
 include the century information (i.e. in 2-digit format),
 the application may have difficulty displaying and
 processing dates after the turn of the century. While you
 can enter and display date information in many different
 formats, such as 01/01/1998, 01/01/98, January 1,
 1998, or 1 Jan 1998, we recommend that you always
 enter and display the date with a 4-digit (yyyy) year to
 avoid any misinterpretation. Be aware that many
 applications (e.g., Access 95) make 2-digit year entry
 assumptions. You should also set all your default date
 formats to display a 4-digit year. Make sure that any
 data previously entered or stored in a 2-digit year
 format is entered and stored in a 4-digit format and that
 the information has been accurately converted.

Copyright 1999 by User-Friendly Computing



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