Do not pass Go, do not collect 2000 without the dating game rules

If you think your agency’s year 2000 problems are licked, here’s a quick
quiz. What’s important about Sept. 9, 1999, Feb. 29, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2000?

Some experts say certain database applications are going to parse the first of the
dates as 9/9/99, which database users will recognize as common dummy date code.

How about Feb. 29? Not every programmer in the past five decades knew that 2000 is a
leap year—after all, 1900 wasn’t—and their programs will calculate the
wrong number of days. Leading PC applications and Microsoft Windows 9x operating systems
do know, however, so users with newer PCs are off the hook for that day.

Nevertheless, Dec. 31, 2000, will be the 366th day of a year that some programs think
has only 365.

But that’s not the end of the dating game. July 1, 1999, will kick off fiscal 2000
in 46 states, and Oct. 1 is the start of the federal fiscal year. These particular dates
don’t have special coding problems, but look out for trouble anyhow.

While checking whether your PC systems work properly on all these days, don’t
forget to test for Oct. 10, 2000, the first time in history that some software programs
will have to fill in eight-digit (10/10/2000) date fields.

I hope I haven’t ruined your day, but year 2000 problems are not confined to next
year, and merely selecting four-digit years in all your software programs won’t fix
every problem.

The best book on the subject I have read is Hayes and Ulrich’s The Year 2000
Software Crisis: Challenge of the Century (Prentice Hall, 1997). The same team wrote The
Year 2000 Software Crisis: The Continuing Challenge.

Although the first book is targeted to business readers, most of the problems discussed
in it could apply to one federal agency or another, especially the warnings about upstream
suppliers that fail to fix their own systems properly.

Despite its lack of PC focus, I do recommend that someone in every large office read
the book, even if only as a backup to see whether something on the checklist might have
been missed.

If you need more facts to bolster a remediation proposal or you want to develop broad
hands-on expertise, read Year 2000: Best Practices for Y2K Millennium Computing. It has
everything from flowcharts and code samples to identification of the leads on real-time
clock chips and a list of embedded Intel Corp., Motorola Inc. and Zilog Inc. chips that
should be replaced to bring older PCs up to the mark.

For more immediate help, there is always the Internet. Take a look at the Small
Business Administration’s Web site at\y2k\indexcheck.htm,
which has the Federal Reserve Board’s checklist for small businesses. Everything
there can apply to your office, too.

Also visit,
the home site of the Computer Information Center that, among other things, links to
hundreds of software and hardware vendors’ year 2000 sites.

Compaq Computer Corp.’s site, for example, lists portables introduced as far back
as 1983 and has useful information for government users.

SBA’s page explains in detail how to do basic PC year 2000 testing without any
additional software. It shows only whether your PCs will roll over to the next year
correctly; it doesn’t test any of the applications. But it certainly is the first
place to start testing PCs, even ones connected to networks.  

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at [email protected].


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