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The Good News and the Bad News about Y2K and computers

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Bang Goes the Millennium
You, Your Company and the Millennium Bug

Apple Macs
Now for PCs
Fixing Your PC
Getting Your PC Fixed for you
More PC 'oh be joyfuls'!

First let me cover Apple Macs: the good news is they ARE Y2K compliant - if you don't believe me check out their site at Apple Macs have been compliant since the first 128 came off the line in 1984! On the site they list their computers, peripherals and software which are Y2K compliant. The only problem you are likely to run into with Apple Macs is some of the third party stuff - but that is easy to check out direct with the manufacturers - most have internet sites.

Advice for Mac users: use the 4-digit year when entering data as this will avoid any possible confusion.

Even better news for Mac users - most Apple Macs can have their SIMM (Single Inline Memory Module) upgraded to give enough memory to satisfy the most RAM hungry application, so there is no need to go out and buy 'new from scratch' everytime a new memory hungry programme or new facility (like the Internet) appears. The Mac I operate was manufactured in March 1992 with 4mb of RAM and a 500mb hard disc, I upgraded to 64mg RAM and 2gb hard disc - it could have 128mg of RAM if I felt I needed it. It is only a few of the early Macs which do not have the capacity to go above 12mg of RAM. Some of the earlier processors have a limit on the amount of hard disk they can cope with, one way of overcoming this is to partition the disk - e.g. 68030 processors find 2gb too much, so make two partitions one of 1.5gb the other .5gb, that solves the problem. For most computers a minimum of 16mg/20mg RAM is required for Internet use.
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Now for PCs
I won't go so far as to say no PCs currently on sale are Y2K compliant, but they can only be permanently compliant if they have a hardware fix to the RTC (Real Time Clock) any other fix is a software fix which sits on the BIOS (Basic Input Output System) this is not permanent and is likely to be deleted anytime you update your operating system, leaving your system non-compliant. The danger of this is that in a work situation, unless very strict records are kept, the non-compliance might become obvious only AFTER it has caused problems. There is another solution - that is to 'flash' the BIOS, but this requires a high degreee of competence and knowledge on fixing computers and you need to have a guarantee that no interruptions (power outages or such like) will happen while the process is taking place as you could end up with a completely useless computer.

Windows 95 is not compliant, Microsoft has now withdrawn earlier statements that it was. It has been announced by Microsoft that Windows 98 has a bug in it which may cause it to freeze after working for about 49 days, this problem is being addressed by the company. There are also further date recognition problems in Windows 98 and Office 97.
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Fixing your PC

Check out the useful Y2K links, one I have recently discovered is , there are other links at Useful Y2K links (including training) Mitre seem to have thought about everything that might be needed both by home PC and business users. There are several software fixes for PCs, but be careful what you get, you need a programme which will:

1. test your PC for 1999/2000 roll over (to do this properly the programme will either switch off and reboot your computer - or will prompt you to do so) and whether you will have problems in this direction if your computer is on or off during the roll over period. Within this test it should also test whether the century date 19 or 20 is incremental rather than fixed, i.e. that on reaching 1999 the 19 part of the date rolls over to 20.

2. test for recognition of year 2000 as a leap year

3. test for recognition that years 2001 - 2003 are not leap years

4. test for recognition that year 2004 is a leap year

5. test for recognition that year 2005 is not a leap year

6. test for reversion (that is test your computer will not lose the date when it is rebooted)

7. Some programmes will also test to see if any of your applications apply for a date to the RTC or CMOS - so far as I know none do - most commercial applications only check to the BIOS level for a date - or if a fix is installed they get waylaid by that and take the date from the fix.

8. Having done this you have to check the short form for automatic date entry complies with the protocol ddmmyyyy (day month 4-digit year)

At time of first testing your machine pull off hard copies of the reports of the test. After fixing your machine pull off any fix reports, then test again and pull off hard copies of the tests after fixing.

That was the easy bit!

9. Now you have to make an inventory of all the applications on the computer and check with the manufacturers (written question written answer required) whether the version you have is Y2K compliant. I have a feeling this is probably going to bump up the sales of legitimate software over the next few months and shake a few of the 'pirated' copies out of the trees.

That wasn't so hard, was it?

10. The hard bit comes when you have to check all the data to make sure that this is Y2K compliant - this means ALL date entries have to have the format (in the UK) ddmmyyyy, yep that's right every date on every spreadsheet, data base, agenda, diary, schedules where ever you put in the date. This is the hardest and most painstaking part of the process. There are programmes that say they will check and update data automatically, if you use one of these it is ESSENTIAL to check the data after updating to make certain there are no anomalies.

11. Having done this REMEMBER if you have a software fix to your BIOS this is likely to be deleted when you next update your operating system and it will be necessary to go through ALL the test and fix process again. BUT if you have updated your operating system (OS) and/or applications after your original test/fix/test procedures it might be the original fix programme you used will not work with the new OS and you will have to buy another. If you do have to re-apply a fix to your computer - remember to follow all the steps in the first section - including pulling off all copies of your data before testing and fixing, and pull of pre-fix test, fix and after fix test reports.

12. Having updated your pc, software and data remember everyone entering data must use the 4-digit year. Using the 2-digit year can cause anomalies as fixes and applications use algorithms to assess whether a 2-digit year date is 19xx or 20xx, in the case of Excel for example any 2-digit year entered as 00 - 19 will be calculated as 20xx, 2-digit years 20-99 will be calculated as 19xx. It would be easy if a standard break year had been used, but developers of fixes and applications have chosen their own break dates often for quite idiosyncratic reasons - such as their first cousin second time removed has a daughter who lost her virginity at age 32 (she was choosy!) - and there you have their particular breakdate.

13. Date resource codes for off the shelf applications are usually published and available, however, for the tailored programmes the resource code for the date is not always published and maybe almost impossible to figure out - it will be necessary therefore to contact the developers of these programmes and ask which particular second cousin's dog's birthday they chose for their date resource code!
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Getting your computer fixed for you
The easy way is to get a qualified computer specialist to do the work, it is a good idea to ask to see their qualifications - the UK qualified computer specialists have usually gone through special courses for Y2K compliance and will have certificates to prove this. Do not be tempted to use Joe Blogg's son who has done a computer course in sixth form and is an absolute whizz at this type of stuff - he will not be qualified to issue you with the necessary documentation verifying that your computer, programmes and data are Y2K compliant. This documentation is essential for insurance purposes and if you undertake contracts for other organizations, government departments and even to show the bank manager (many banks are refusing new loans or calling in existing ones if small companies cannot prove they are Y2K compliant). If you employ a qualified specialist to do the work you must ask:

Will they undertake to do all the tests and fixes as outlined in steps 1-8 above and give you documentary proof of the results of the tests before and after fixing.

Charges vary depending how many computers you operate, whether they are networked and whether the fix can be conducted over the network or has to be installed individually, and as the year end approaches the work load on qualified specialists is likely to be such that they will be working practically 24 hours a day and this will be reflected in their prices.

Steps 9 may be subject to negotiation, most specialists will agree to list out all the applications and versions on your system, they might even have a list of contacts, there will be a charge for this, but not so much as if you ask them to contact the manufacturers direct - a quick phone call does not do - to be fully compliant you have to keep written records of all compliance queries and answers.

A note here on the legal requirements for showing compliance. All compliance procedures need to be fully documented and paper proof kept. Letters and faxes are accepted in British courts as legal proof, e-mails however have not yet been tested for legality due to actual or perceived problems in proof of origin. Your written requests for confirmation or otherwise of Y2K compliance of any programme, application, hardware, processor should also include a request for a written answer on company letterhead, failing that a fax, do not accept e-mail confirmations only.

Step 10 is again a matter for negotiation some fix programmes say they will fix all data, but this still has to be checked. Before checking it is essential to pull off hard copies of all data before it is updated. If the data is to be updated manually some specialists will do this (for a charge), it is up to you to decide whether it is worth paying the specialist or paying overtime to staff to do this. The advantage of using staff might not be so much financial as the fact they know, or should know, the work and are unlikely to input further errors.

One further note, even though it is updated, data which was originally entered on versions of applications which were not compliant might not take too kindly when being read by a later version of the application - so all data will need to be checked again once you have updated your applications to make certain that no anomalies have not crept in.

: In order for your company to remain compliant it is absolutely ESSENTIAL that once having created inventories for your computer and its systems these are updated every time your computer is updated.

An out of date inventory, whether of your computer, systems and applications, or other processes that rely on embedded chips may not provide adequate protection for insurance or legal purposes.

Written records should be kept of when and how data was updated and when the checks were made.
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And now for a few more 'oh be joyfuls' about PCs and some of the current operating systems.
It has been reported there are serious privacy problems with some of the Microsoft programmes including in Windows 98, Office 97 and the new version IE5. It appears there is a 'glitch' in these programmes that 'stamps' a 32 bit number within documents, this 32 bit number is unique to each computer, this would mean documents could be traced back to originating computers, and if it should be in 'cookies' it would enable tracking a surfer where ever they travel on the Internet. Fuller details of the 'glitches' in these programmes can be found at Netsavers Netcentre Software Newsletter. If you are a PC and Windows/Office/IE5 person it is worth subscribing to this useful and free newsletter the e-mail address is: Ieke van Stokkum, mcij, maip
Member, Association of Internet Professionals
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