"The only thing you have to fear, is fear itself."
A guide to Year 2000 compliance
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Everyone by now has heard about the issues affecting computers with the coming new millenium. The question on most people's minds now is 'How will this affect me?' We will attempt to help you answer that question as it pertains to your own computers and provide direction to resolving it.
The year 2000 issue (a.k.a. y2k bug) actually consists of three separate issues. These issues revolve around your entire computer system and not simply the single PC that sits in front of you. Computers used at home for casual use such as playing games and typing personal letters may also contain these issues although you would not be as concerned as a computer that is used for the accounting system of a business.
The Issues on Year 2000
- January 1, 2000 - 00 versus 2000. This issue begins in the fact that many computer systems were designed to use two digits to represent the year in a date instead of four digits. Some computers start at 1980. In this case '00' will equate to the earliest date it understands which is 1980. Some computers also use 1972. For software (application programs) that only use two digits, this will mean that '00' (which will be used) will be earlier than the year '99'. For an accounting program determining if a bill is overdue, it may believe a payment due December 1999 is not yet due as its 99 years early!
- February 29, 2000 - 2000 is a leap year while 1900 was not. If the computer thinks its 1900 (even if the year 2000 is not an issue for you) then it will go from February 28 to March 1 in the year 2000. This can affect software that depends on daily schedules or month end processing.
- The date 9/9/99 was used by many programs as an instruction to exit a program. This practice was not used on personal computers and is reported here only for your information.
But I have a new computer
A new computer does not mean that it is not affected by the year 2000 problem. Many manufacturers use components which, may have been made before year 2000 fixes. Another problem is while the computer's hardware/firmware may be compliant, the software that came with it may not be.
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The Entire computer system
A computer is comprised of several components, three of which (hardware, software and data files) can be affected by the Year 2000 issue. These three components are described in detail below.
The hardware clock is governed by the BIOS (Basic Input Output System) as to whether it will handle a four or two digit year. The hardware clock (a.k.a. Real Time Clock or RTC) is used by the Operating System and all software to determine the current date at the time the computer is booted.
The Operating System (MS-DOS. Windows 95, NT, UNIX, etc.) is used to control the hardware and for which all applications rely on for processing. If the Operating System uses only a two digit year, data will be adversely affected. While you may have heard that your Operating System is compliant, often patches (additional software) may be required for your specific version to be fully compliant.
Y2K Hoax? - There were numerous chain E-messages floating the Internet that claimed that "Every copy of Windows will fail on January 1st unless you..." The claim is that since Windows (95, 98, NT) default's its regional settings to a two digit year, all applications will fail. You must go to Control Panel, select Regional Settings; date and change the short date to MM/dd/yyyy and save the change. Microsoft has posted on their web site that this is a hoax. We have tested many applications at various organizations pertaining to this issue. We have found a total of three applications that are affected by this setting. Only individual testing can determine your vulnerability. It is recommended that you make this change to avoid any problems and have data displayed with a four byte year.
Application Programs (word processing, spreadsheet, E-mail, games, etc.) are what you actually use to accomplish your daily work. As many of the application programs produce data based on dates (billing, scheduling, ordering, etc.) they must be compliant. Application programs must be able to accept, return and make its computations based on four byte years. Often there is another issue with from where does it receive its date information from, the hardware clock or the OS clock and therefore its accuracy.
Data files store information (documents, spreadsheets, hi score lists, etc.) that you have input or have been calculated by the application programs. Data may have been entered with a two digit year which may affect future calculations as the actual date moves to the year 2000. Note that while viewing some data you may see a date listed as (for instance) 1999 but the program may simply be adding the 19 to the two digit year for display purposes and is actually only using two digits for processing. This will mean that the program may compute the year as 00 against 99, the definition of the year 2000 issue.
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The Network System
At issue in larger environments are also components of the network. These fall into the same category as a single computer system although more complex. Hardware can consist of the File server computer as well as hubs, switches, routers, UPS and backup tape drives. Software will include the Network Operating System and all (backup, communication, utility, database, etc.) software used on or from the server. Data Files stored on the servers may also be at risk. Because of the complexity of networks these can not be covered fully in this document.
Road to Year 2000 Readiness
Make a check of the three components: hardware, software and data files.
For those components that are not compliant, plan an upgrade path to either upgrade or replace. Hint: Planning is an essential part of this process for success.
Implement the planned upgrade path.
- Check and/or replace your BIOS battery! While a battery will not cause any year 2000 issues it may cause issues with the system having the wrong date. When a BIOS battery is dead, the system date will return to its earliest date, usually January 1, 1980.
- Check with your PC's manufacturer for year 2000 compliance. If updates or replacement are required, make note for your upgrade planning. Hint: Information for many PC manufacturers can be found on the Internet at the web address of http://www.pcy2000.org
- Use one of the available utilities to test the computer and its BIOS. This should be done even if the manufacturer states full compliance as substitute parts may have been used which are not compliant.
- Check the exact version of the Operating System and verify with the manufacturer for year 2000 compliance. Hint: In case of possible future liability issues it is strongly suggested to obtain a letter stating that your current version is year 2000 compliant.
- Check the versions of all application programs and verify with the manufacturer for compliance. Some software companies have their own (or third party) utilities that will check that the version in use is already compliant, requires updates or replacement. Hint: If an application program is found not to be compliant and is no longer needed it should be removed from your system.
- Check your data files for two digit years. A visual inspection can be made but be aware that some programs will automatically insert the first two digits for visual display only. There are several available utilities that will test data files for compliance. Hint: Spreadsheet programs (Lotus, Excel, etc.) may contain macros which are not visible as data that automatically make computations based on two digit years.
- If you share data files or application programs with others, confirm that they are fully compliant. Hint: Remember that if you receive data files or application programs from them that is not compliant then you are no longer compliant.
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Making your Plan
For each component, decide if year 2000 compliance will affect your business or information.
If you do not have anything that is date specific or is not important (such as games) then no changes may be required.
- Decide if it would be more beneficial to replace, upgrade or patch. For hardware this could mean a BIOS (chip) replacement, system board replacement or a patch may be available. A BIOS chip upgrade may be less expensive but a complete system board replacement may make more sense for an increase in total system performance or if you are already planning a system upgrade. As a less expensive alternative, there are programs which will "reset" the hardware clock at boot time to the correct year 2000 compliant date therefore not requiring any hardware replacements or upgrades. These should be used only as a last resort or temporary measure before the proper upgrade or replacement.
- For Operating systems the choice may be between applying patches or upgrading to a newer compliant version. A change to a different or newer OS may also require upgrades in your application programs. Hint: Many operating systems vendors continue to release new Year 2000 related patches and should be considered an ongoing practice even if you upgrade.
- Application programs may be patched, upgraded or replaced. Support may be a key consideration for this path and therefore should be checked as part of your plan. Nearly all vendors have an "End of Life" period for application program versions where they cease full support. Check with your vendors for this date, which may indicate a necessity to upgrade or replace. Hint: Be sure to save all previous original media of application programs even if not year 2000 compliant as upgraded programs may require them for installation.
- Data files will need to be changed manually. There are also several utilities that will automatically update data files with the proper dates. Some of the automatic changes made by thee utilities may adversely affect future calculations and therefore an archive of data files should be made before any such operation. Hint: Regardless of the process used, it is advisable to create a separate archive (backup) of all data files to be stored and used only for issues in the new millenium.
- Confirm that any new data files or application programs you obtain in the future are compliant. It is a good idea to keep any testing utilities you have already obtained and use them whenever you receive any new hardware, operating systems or data files.
Keep up to date on all new Year 2000 related alerts. Manufacturers are still as of this writing (late 1999) releasing updates and patches to further year 2000 compliance.
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