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By Jim Gerland and Mark Winer

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What's all the fuss about the year 2000?
May 15, 1998

We read about 10 computer and technology related magazines each week and every one of them has at least 2 or 3 articles about the Year 2000 Problem. In fact, just last week in the "Click On Computing" section of the Buffalo News T. Reid and B. Hume advised people that they had little to worry about when using their home machines. We recently had a similar discussion about how (or if) the Year 2000 (Y2K) was going to affect students at the University at Buffalo and normal home users in general.

First, a little background for those of you reading this column that may not be aware of what the fuss is all about. Human beings have no problem immediately understanding that 2000 is larger than the number 1999 and that the day after December 31, 1999 is January 1, 2000. We can do this in our head because our brains are trained to think of years with 4 digits and we were taught how to count by ones in kindergarten or even earlier. Early computers, and many machines still in use, are not that smart. Back in the old days, (10 to 20 years ago), computers were built with an internal clock that used only 2 digits. Those same machines had very little memory in them and disk space was very expensive so programmers stored the date field using only 2 digits to conserve precious resources. We used to write COBOL programs like that back in the early 1980s (yes, even payroll programs). We never even thought about the year 2000. It was almost 20 years away and we never figured our programs would still be in use then. The problem with only using 2 digits for the year is that the computer sees January 1, 2000 as 010100 and December 31, 1999 as 123199 and so whenever it needs to compare these 2 dates it determines that 99 is greater than 00. This can be a major problem with any type of financial or data analysis software. If you have a credit card that expires on January 1, 2000 and try to use it today with a vendor who is using a machine or software that is not Y2K compliant your request for credit may be denied because the machine will see that 00 is less than 98 and conclude that your card expired 98 years ago.

We began our search for information at the University at Buffalo Year 2000 web site,, where we found a good amount of information, including what plans UB is making to address this problem, a Vendor Compliance list,, and a list of other helpful Y2K Internet sites. Over at Canisius College we found their ITS Master Plan,,addressed the hardware and software issues in its Year 2000 Appendix.

As always, Yahoo! provided the most complete list of Y2K web sites,, including pointers to humor, software, and FAQs. In the humor area we found "The Top 15 Unforeseen Consequences of the Millennium Bug" on the Ziff Davis site,, amusing. The Year 200 Doghouse,, takes those companies and authors to task who seem to be either making too much of a fuss or providing misinformation about the Y2K problem. Since we began our computing careers programming COBOL, we thought The Year 2000 Humor Page,, was a nice story. If you want to show the world you're a real computer geek then order a T-shirt from the Y2K Fun Page,, or pick up a free Year 2000 screensaver, from Accu Knowledge, Inc., If you're in charge of your company newsletter and want to include some cartoons visit the Y2K Cartoon Zone,, at FortuneNet.

Back to our original reason for investigating this topic, we found very little that leads us to believe that this is a major problem for the student or home computer user. Most of the major software applications are already or will be Y2K compliant. You might want to check out the Systems Modelling Ltd. Web site,, for more information about possible problems with spreadsheets and database applications. You may also want to take a look at the US Government Commercial Off-the-Shelf Product Database, If you're a Quicken user check out the Intuit site,, for information about their products.

Most Pentium machines don't have the Y2K date problem and the RighTime Company,, offers a free software program, test2000, that will check your system clock. IBM, and, Microsoft,, and Gateway,, have lots of good information available at their web sites. Mac users are not totally immune from this date bug although the Mac hardware does not have the same problems as the Intel-based machines. Peter de Jager wrote a good article about this for the Datamation magazine,, entitled "Walking on Thin Ice".

Since we are "The Internet Guys", we thought it would be a good idea to mention an article on the Netscape World magazine site,, that talks about the specific issues for webmasters and web site developers. The c|net Central web site has an interesting article at entitled "8 myths about the millenium bug".

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