Test your OS first then worry about applications, drivers

In the last issue, I discussed updating PC BIOSes. This time, let’s talk
about operating systems—a necessary first step before you start worrying about
database and spreadsheet applications.

The best place to find information about Microsoft Windows, Windows NT and MS-DOS OSes
is on Microsoft Corp.’s TechNet site at www.microsoft.com/technet/default.htm. It has
five categories: compliant, compliant with minor issues, not compliant, not yet tested or
not to be tested.

Only the compliant and noncompliant classifications really ease your worries. Ignore
the compliant applications and replace the noncompliant ones. For any of the other
categories, you must do some testing on your own.

First, search the database at www.microsoft.com/technet/year2k/product/product.htm
for further information. You will learn, for example, that the 32-bit English-language
Windows version of Excel 97 is ready, but the Arabic-language version has minor errors.

Only MS-DOS OSes later than Version 5.0A have been tested, but at least all are
certified as OK except for some minor problems—as is Windows CE 2.1 for handheld

Click on a particular version to link to an extensive description of just what is
wrong. For example, among Windows 3.1’s minor issues is failure to set the date for
leap year, Feb. 29, 2000, which must be done in the Control Panel’s Date/Time area.
You can work around this from the keyboard, and the software does roll over properly.

Most of Windows 3.x’s problems relate to its underlying MS-DOS operating system,
which cannot accept two-digit years after 00 but will accept 2000 at the command.com date
function prompt.

This is minor but might cause unnecessary OS upgrades if you didn’t know you could
reset the system date.

For IBM PC DOS and OS/2, check out www.software.ibm.com/os/warp/solutions/and/y2000/year2000.html.
IBM’s online database has only two classifications, ready and not ready.

If you’re running LAN Server 3 or other unready products, the site tells you how
to upgrade. Most of the software fixes are free through early 2001.

Despite Microsoft’s assurance that Excel is OK, you might want to visit
www.iol.ie/sysmod/y2ksprds.htm for tips about spreadsheet problems. You’ll learn, for
example, about possibly not being able to open existing Excel files after a change to a
four-digit-year default.

I haven’t tested this myself, but it’s important to consider the implications
if you have old Excel worksheets that will be in use next year.

Although 1900 wasn’t a leap year, 2000 is. Older versions of Lotus 1-2-3 thought
1900 had 366 days, not the correct 365, and Excel followed right along.

The Microsoft iol.ie site reports that even supposedly ready versions of Excel and
Informix Software Inc. databases can get into trouble when they exchange Structured Query
Language data via an Open Database Connectivity layer that recognizes only two-digit-year

Such exchanges between spreadsheets and databases, particularly ones that have been
upgraded for readiness, are a major year 2000 concern. Most federal offices won’t
start developing new worksheets and databases from scratch with the patched programs; they
will continue to import data and programming code such as report generators from the older

I don’t see how agencies can guarantee they have achieved complete readiness
unless they buy all new hardware and software and don’t migrate any legacy data or
existing code.

I do believe a multitude of PCs and their applications will work just fine next year.
The downside is that we depend on our PCs to an incredible extent, and it takes a lot of
work to determine whether they will be OK.

Without extensive testing, you simply cannot have full confidence that systems will
operate properly on Monday morning, Jan. 3. Even if your hardware, OSes and applications
are ready, some of their device drivers might not be.

See IBM’s site at www.pc.ibm.com/year2000/driver.html
for helpful driver information for IBM users. 

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.

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