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Year 2000 — My Search for Answers


Volume 5, No. 2, First Quarter 1999

By Olie Jolstad

During some downtime over the holiday season, I embarked upon a mission to determine whether the personal computers in my household might have problems with the dreaded millennium bug.

As I began, my nine-year-old daughter asked me one of those questions that cannot be explained. You can always tell when this is about to happen because her chin drops, her eyebrows furrow, and she looks to her mother with that expression of complete and total bewilderment. Oh, the question . . . “Dad, why is everything that goes wrong with a computer called a bug or virus?” She might as well have asked for the explanation of the theory of relativity.

She decided to go shoot the basketball in temperatures below freezing rather than wait for my explanation. I went back to my mission and soon began to wish that I had joined her outside.

For an example of the ambiguity that I found, you need go no further than Microsoft. If you look for information about Windows 98 on Microsoft's Web site, the following excerpt can be found:

“While these issues can result in the incorrect display of Year 2000 dates under certain conditions, they pose no risk of data loss or other serious loss of functionality. In fact, most of our customers will never run into these issues in their normal daily use of their computer.”

Since when is anything “normal” when it comes to sophisticated software and hardware configuration?

I downloaded no less than a dozen various testing diagnostics — some good, some horrible, nothing outstanding. What I found is that my less-than-one-year-old computer, according to these various diagnostics, contained 67 Year 2000 bugs. Fifty-one of these were related to Microsoft software, another dozen were related to Netscape software, and the remaining four concerned the BIOS and CMOS. The BIOS and CMOS are critical to the operating systems, so this concerned me.

I can tell you that, having experienced the search for bug and virus fixes this weekend, I am convinced that a lot of people and organizations are outside shooting hoops. Also, if nothing else is learned from my experience, know these two things. Be sure that whatever diagnostics or software you use tests the BIOS and not just your hardware clock. Moreover, be very, very careful if anything asks about or automatically changes your WIN.COM file. It took me a long, long time to get that “fixed” after it was made Y2K “compliant.” That said, here are some Internet sites that you might find helpful.

  • www.nstl.com - YMARK2000 testing software is a program that will fix the computer’s BIOS and/or basic input and output system. The BIOS is the intercommunication with all the parts of your system, and it reads the software that you use.
  • www.vendor2000.com - Vendor 2000 lists compliant and non-compliant equipment.
  • www.microsoft.com/technet/topics/year2k - Microsoft’s product line is here, and it provides information about what is and is not compliant.

The following is a list of software testing equipment and the corresponding Web sites. These are listed alphabetically — the order does not suggest that one product is better than another.

  • Toolbox - 222.nai.com
  • Check 2000 PC Deluxe - www.gmt-uta.com
  • Fix2000 - www.intelliquis.com
  • Norton 2000 - www.symantec.com
  • Vertex 2000 - www.bigisoft.com

After spending numerous hours traveling the bandwidth of the Internet, I have come to the following general conclusions about the millennium bug:

  • There will be a lot of problems with software
  • There will be a lot of problems with personal computers.
  • There will be a lot of problems with mainframes.
  • There are tens of millions of experts with their own advice and “fixes” for the bugs.
  • There is a lot of useless information out there, especially from the software and hardware manufacturers who have little, if any, idea how to “fix” their own products.