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March 11, 1999

What is Y2K?

It’s not just a champagne hangover when celebrating the end of the millenium; a lot of computers think of dates in terms of 2 digits. People know that the day after 12/31/99 is 1/1/00. But computers don’t. They could think that "00" means 1900. Y2K is the abbreviation for The Year Two Thousand Bug, where K is the symbol for thousand.

What might cause my computer to fail?

Calculated dates within software programs are most likely to cause a problem. However, you the user, could also be the source of the Y2K problem. If you set up a spread sheet several years ago and used 2 digits for the date, 99 rather than 1999 for instance, you could cause problems for your software because it may not know how to roll-over to the correct year.

Recommendations from Bill Howard, Senior Executive Editor at PC Magazine in NY, on your Y2K problems:

  • Back-up your important documents. The most important documents are spreadsheets and software that involve personal finance. You can back-p to floppies, but a zip is preferable because it holds more data in one place.

  • Set the date forward to late in the evening of Dec. 31t. Turn the computer off, wait half an hour until the computer thinks it’s after January 1st and see if the computer boots up (which it should). See what day it is. Does it think it’s January 1st 2000? Or does it think it’s Jan. 1st 1980 or some other date such as 1900? If your computer does not wake up or is confused about the date, call the manufacturer’s customer support. The Windows 98 operating system requires a patch which you can get at Microsoft’s website.

  • Visit the Y2K web pages. If you’re a non-technical computer user, go out and look for a commercial year 2000 checking utility that will do the checking for you. There are a number that are available for free. Some shareware programs might cost $20 or $30.

  • Test hardware for compliance. If you have an older PC, 4, 5, 6 years old, you may want to go and look for what’s called a BIOS fix online. BIOS stands for Basic Input Output System. There are many sites where you can find it. The BIOS, which may be a problem in some older computers, is the traffic cop in your computer. It tells the disk drive and the keyboard and the monitor to work happily together. And that’s the part of the computer that is going to have the year 2000 problem. When you download a so-called software patch, you’re actually reprogramming the BIOS to be a little bit smarter about the year 2000.

  • Upgrade your software. In some cases you may need to buy a software upgrade. Finance software that is 2 or 3 years old, for example, will probably need a patch or an entire upgrade. If you’re using older software, 1995 and earlier, you may have a problem because that software really wasn’t intended to be around at the end of 1999. Those makers were hoping you’d spend $40 or $50 each year to upgrade the software. You can resolve that most likely by getting a new upgrade. Call your vendor to get the latest version.

  • Check who’s who. When you go to a year 2000 site on the web, ask yourself who’s promoting the site. Is it a commercial vendor, is it a consultant who wants to do more consulting? When you go to a medical site, you ask youself does a medical association run this site, or does a drug company want you to take its pills to fix a condition. Do the same for your software. Confirm from outside sources that the software upgrade is necessary, then look into purchasing it.

Possible problems with home business software

According to Howard, some home businesses use software that’s written and used in smaller quantities. Custom software designed for a unique application for a specific business may not have ready-made patches that, for example, are available for Microsoft products. In this case the users find the glitches instead of the software companies. With fewer users checking the software, there’s potentially the problem that a Y2K bug might slip by without a patch. However, most people who upgrade their software to the latest versions and make sure their computers read the year 2000 ahead of time should be running smoothly when the ball drops.

Real fright or media hype?

Howard says a good deal of Y2K unfortunately is media hype, where it’s better to say the sky is falling than the sky is not falling. "For instance one of the major business magazines a couple weeks ago...gave an example of a problem with a product. They listed a 1990 piece of software that doesn’t understand the year 2000 dates. That was their lead example, and frankly that software’s been off the market for seven years, so it should not be a big problem."

Solutions for home business users

Whether you are doing personal accounting or running a small business from home, you protect yourself in virtually the same way. The savvy user should go online and check for Y2K websites related to their software and hardware. Back up data and run the "stroke-of-midnight" test on your computer. It is also very important to check with your accountant or lawyer to make sure that you’re covered in terms of personal liability in the event that a Y2K problem does occur. Odds are that you may have a few glitches, but you should not lose any data or finances on January 1, 2000.

What about Macs?

During the 1999 Super Bowl, the world’s most famous computer, Hal, announced in a 30-second spot Macintosh’s immunity to Y2K bugs. Apple has a "readiness disclosure" for Y2K. The gist of what Apple has to say about its Y2K preparation is that all of its Macintosh products since 1984 are Y2K compliant. Your Mac should roll-over to January 1st, 2000 without any hitches and also knows that 2000 is a leap year. You can test your Mac to make sure that it won’t get sick. Apple says that it will support its products with Y2K problems, so long as the problem is not a result of third-part software or hardware.

Elsewhere on the web:




U.S. Small Business Administration

Quicken Small Business Y2K Recommendations

Y2K Legal Information

produced by STN2

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