Come 2000, will Chicken Little be peeping or will he be squawking?

If you
were to ask Chicken Little, he’d say the sky will fall on Jan. 1, 2000.


A weather forecaster, however, would say there’s merely a chance of stormy
weather.


A week rarely goes by without someone touting a miracle tool for ferreting out the
double-digit year codes buried in every PC and server.


The truth is, you could load every such product and run every test, but you still
wouldn’t be able to predict with certainty what will happen to agency computers and
networks in less than 500 days.


Here are my four predictions:


Why? The most common client on government networks is still a 66-MHz 486. According to
GCN’s surveys, the 486 populates more government LANs than any other PC.


A 66-MHz 486 is “year 2000-capable,” according to Intel Corp.’s Web site
at http://support.intel.com. But the motherboard,
chip sets and real-time clock may not be. And don’t forget the software applications.


The government also has plenty of old 386 and Pentium PCs. Fax servers, similar
computer-driven workhorses and assorted pieces of the information technology puzzle
somehow must be rolled over to prepare for 2000.


But an army of engineers couldn’t get all the components, operating systems and
software ready because some of the makers no longer exist or no longer support the
products.


Even if we had a retrofitting army on the march, the only cost-effective way to fix
some old clients is to buy new ones. And when it comes to desktop PCs, that’s a
relatively inexpensive option. Pentium II PCs with a monitor start around $1,200.


Some vendors talk as if 2000 is a cyber-Armageddon. Sure, a few systems may melt down
like Chernobyl, but, for the most part, society will continue to function. Citizens will
not wish they had moved to remote log cabins in the mountains.


So what if a computer thinks it’s 1900 rather than 2000? Sure, the fax server
might quit, and an application or two might refuse to launch, but most computer services
will survive.


Will your computer boot up when you arrive at your agency on Monday, Jan. 3, 2000?
Probably. Database queries might return confused answers for years greater than 99 or less
than 00. E-mail might be considered too old to send or get scheduled for delivery in 2099.
And if you have not appropriately patched Microsoft Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0, some
file searches might be a little confusing.


Then again, one little unsuspected chip might muck up the whole thing and shut your
system down permanently. Which leads to the next point …


Few computers are islands unto themselves. Dependencies exist all over. Applications
rely on Dynamic Link Libraries, virtual device drivers, custom controls, .ini files and
dozens of other invisible components.


E-mail delivery relies on a server, which relies on its post office, which relies on a
router, which relies on an Internet service provider, which relies on the Internet and so
on.


So the 2000 Leap Year will cause another round of minor inconveniences, but then you
won’t have to worry for another four years.


In the end and despite all the hype, 2000 will likely turn out to be just another year
in which the answer to most software or hardware problems will be just a patch or a
ROM-burst away.    

inside gcn

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    Machine learning with limited data

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