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ARCHIVED  July 16, 1999

Y2K computer fixes come in all shapes and sizes

Panic over the year 2000 issue seems to have died down a bit, but perhaps it is just the lull before the storm.

Now that thousands of computers have been tested for Y2K bugs, programmers have learned what to look for and how to correct many of the problems at hand. In order to ensure that a computer system will handle the date rollover from ’99 to 2000 without a hitch, both the hardware and the operating system — or software — must be brought into compliance. A number of options for remediation are available, though some have become more popular than others.

The hardware issue seems to be the easiest to address.

Corrections to the motherboard can be made manually, with a card or chip that is inserted into the board, or the motherboard can be replaced. When the motherboard is fixed manually, often a new program is needed for the BIOS (basic input output system) and the software.

“If your hard drive is not compliant, then nothing else in your computer will be,” said Bill Becker, vice president of Data Service Center in Fort Collins.

To correct the date-recognition problem on a computer hard drive, Becker’s firm plugs a Y2K card into the motherboard.

“Basically it steals the date field and takes over,” Becker said. “It creates a four-digit date field instead of a two-digit field.”

Becker likes using the card to override the problem, because it can’t be deleted accidentally when it is part of the hardware. Most systems can be upgraded in this fashion, including the 386 PCs, 486 PCs and the Pentiums.

The Pentium II should be compliant, but Becker warns that it all depends on where the motherboard was made.

A bigger challenge is making sure that the computer’s operating system is Y2K-compliant. Even the newest software might not be free of Y2K bugs.

Old systems using DOS will have more-serious problems, Becker said. “I haven’t seen any programs (on the market) that can make DOS compliant,” he said. “The major software programs, such as Quicken and Office ’97, have patches or little software programs available on the Internet that can be downloaded for free from the manufacturer’s Web site to correct a program.”

Programs to correct Y2K problems with software work in several ways. Some programs expand the date field to four digits; some override the date field if the field cannot be expanded. Some others cause the computer to recognize 00 as 2000, and still others use a technique called windowing.

Bob Long, vice president of service and delivery at Managed Business Solutions in Fort Collins, explained how windowing works.

“You can choose an arbitrary number for the program such as 30, and the computer assumes that in numbers of 30 or more, the date will be 1900 and with 30 or less, it will be 2000,” he said.

Companies using this method should choose the arbitrary number carefully. For example, the number 30 might not work well for a mortgage company that works with 30-year mortgages.

Typically, Y2K consultants will use a combination of these programs. “It seems like it would be logical to create a four-digit date field,” said Darrick Dahlin, a consultant with MBS. “But that’s not always feasible. You may be using a four-digit date field, but if you are communicating with a computer with a two-digit date field, there could be a problem. So windowing would be good to use in that case.”

Dahlin said that windowing is encapsulated in virtually all the Microsoft platforms: Excel, Windows, Publisher, Netscape and others. So programs that expand the date field or get the computer to recognize 2000 often have windowing encapsulated in the program to use for other applications.

“The manufacturer’s Web site will tell you how to use the applications,” Dahlin said. “Typically, the patches that you download (for software corrections) don’t change the date field physically. They make it so the programs can handle four-digit dates, which actually they always could, but they also make it so they can recognize two digits as 2000.”

However, he added, if the date field is two digits, the computer uses windowing to make an assumption about the date.

Dahlin said that the best way to ensure that no errors occur is to always type in a four-digit date for spreadsheets and other programs. This could potentially be a nightmare for the federal government, which is trying to correct Y2K problems in Social Security records and income-tax records — records with millions and millions of dates.

Becker pointed out that many third-party Y2K fixes can be found on the Internet, but they might not be trustworthy.

“They are popping up everywhere, and it is wide open for scam artists. If the ads look too easy, they probably are,” he said.

Becker says the only sure fix is to go to the program manufacturer’s Web site and find the corrections you need for your programs.

Most experts agree.

“The only [Y2K] solutions to trust to fix either the hardware or software should come directly from the manufacturer,´ said John Fenney, service manager at Micro Computer World. “You can write a program that expands the date field, but then what do you have? There are no guarantees that everything will work correctly. I would only attempt to get a new version of software from the manufacturer. I would not make any other corrections.”

Not all computers are caught in the Y2K conundrum. Macintosh computers are Y2K-compliant and shouldn’t experience any problems. “The Macs always had a four digit date field,´ said Kurt Ronacher, vice president of sales at Micro Computer World in Longmont.

Most problems won’t be as serious as people think when Y2K rolls around Ronacher said.

“I think that it is fair to say, ‘don’t panic,'” he said. “And for some of the problems, we will have to wait until Y2K to see what happens.” Ronacher won’t be sitting in front of his computer when the clock rolls over on Jan. 1, 2000. “I hope to be having fun off fishing somewhere,” he said.

Panic over the year 2000 issue seems to have died down a bit, but perhaps it is just the lull before the storm.

Now that thousands of computers have been tested for Y2K bugs, programmers have learned what to look for and how to correct many of the problems at hand. In order to ensure that a computer system will handle the date rollover from ’99 to 2000 without a hitch, both the hardware and the operating system — or software — must be brought into compliance. A number of options for remediation are available, though some have become more popular…

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