Microsoft posts year 2000 info, tips about real-time clocks

After several months of revising, Microsoft Corp. has reposted a white paper about year
2000 readiness that it pulled off its Web site late last year.

The new document, at,
is the company’s official readiness disclosure about a topic that is giving PC
managers heartburn.

Microsoft’s paper grew out of several months of discussions with Compaq Computer
Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Gateway Inc., Greenwich Mean Time-UTA L.C. of Arlington, Va.,
Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Phoenix Technologies Ltd. of San Jose,
Calif., and RighTime Co. of Miami.

The Microsoft Windows NT operating system, used by many federal and state agencies and
once considered immune to 2000 rollover troubles, can indeed experience them if the
underlying hardware is not year 2000-ready, the Microsoft disclosure states.

Windows OSes insulate applications “from most, although not all, year 2000
rollover issues,” the document says. Users must make their PC BIOSes year 2000-ready
to correct most clock rollover errors, even though they can expect the OS to correct some,
according to the document.

Despite minor inconsistencies, the disclosure clarifies something that has worried one
state official for months. Stuart Greenfield, an analyst in the Controller of Public
Accounts Office in Austin, Texas, said he tried repeatedly to get clarification after
reading a Microsoft document that said Windows NT needed a year 2000-ready real-time

He said the real-time clock failed in a test of an IBM PC Server 704e running the
state’s Web tax filing application under NT. “I’m a Mac user,”
Greenfield said, “but the real-time clock was a big concern for me” because
returns must be accurately time- and date-stamped.

According to the Microsoft paper, NT gets its date from the real-time clock during
boot-up and whenever the time daemon compare routine is invoked to update the OS time and
date. For some hardware rollover errors, NT adds 100 to century dates incorrectly
displayed as 1900 to 1919.

But NT’s software fix will not help users on Jan. 1 if they have a faulty BIOS
that sets the clock to 1995 instead of 2000. In that case, NT will set the OS date as 1995
because its century-date logic reads all years between 1920 and 1999 as valid.

Similarly, the Windows 98 OS is not self-correcting if the BIOS gives a bad century
date that Win98 recognizes as one in a series of valid dates.

According to the document, Windows OSes are unable to compensate for BIOSes that fail
to recognize as valid dates the years between 1980 and 1993 or between 2000 and 2093, as
is the case with one BIOS chip in common use.

In the new document, Microsoft gives step-by-step instructions for century rollover
testing of systems running NT. The four recommended tests check whether the system date
rolls over to 2000 while the PC is off, whether the system recognizes 2000 as a leap year,
whether the BIOS setup can change the year to 2000 and, finally, whether the BIOS setup
can maintain a valid year 2000 date.

Microsoft said BIOS code that updates the real-time clock during run-time operations
“may not roll over from 1999 to 2000 right away,” which is why test apps that
directly access the real-time clock often report errors.

Microsoft also said that networked PCs can be used despite faulty BIOSes if they use a
time-synchronizing service that points to an accurate time source on the network, such as
an atomic clock. Microsoft provides such a utility in the Windows NT 4.0 Resource Kit in a
file named timeserv.exe.

The Web site advises managers to check the date-handling automation libraries in their
PCs. Microsoft apps and OSes use automation libraries to interpret two-digit years and to
create unambiguous serial dates.

Because earlier versions of the automation libraries interpret two-digit dates
differently from later versions, organizations can get hit with application date-handling
errors if they continue using inconsistent versions.

Greenfield, however, is still bothered by Microsoft’s lack of response to his
e-mail. His agency “responds to customers’ e-mail quickly,” he said. He
expected the same of Microsoft.  

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