Beat the Clock

Beat the Clock

Four by four. Although year 2000 fixes have been under way in the government and elsewhere for more than five years, and the public hype level is spiraling up to near-hysteria, many desktop PC users do not know whether their Microsoft Windows Control Panel's Regional Settings show four-digit year dates in the mm/dd/yyyy format.

'The thinking here is that all Windows software uses the Control Panel's format for input and evaluation of dates,' said Seth J. Hoerth, vice president of sales and marketing for MFX America of San Diego.

It's not so, Hoerth said. Built-in date operations in Access, Visual Basic and Excel follow the mm/dd/yyyy format, but many other applications do not, especially homegrown code and expressions in spreadsheet or database applications. Also, individual users can revert back to mm/dd/yy anytime they wish to make data entry tasks easier.

How degrading. Although Hoerth said he does not expect any catastrophic events when 2000 begins, he predicted which the complex pastiche of software running on most systems will degrade sooner or later as the conflicting date formats spread.

Early versions of Microsoft Access assume that any two-digit years are in the 20th century, whereas Access 95 can assign them elsewhere depending on which version of the Microsoft Object Linking and Embedding library is in use.

Microsoft Excel 95 and 97 can assign the two-digit year 20 or 30 to either the 20th or the 21st century. Microsoft Outlook 97 assigns an ambiguous date either 30 years back from the current time or 70 years forward. Birthdays in the Contacts portion of Outlook, according to Hoerth, follow another rule because a greater bias toward the past is necessary.

Microsoft Word 95 interprets 00 as the year 2000 and all other two-digit years as 20th century. Word 97 considers two-digit years from 00 to 29 as 21st century years and all others as 20th century.

Confused yet? The presence of a browser can muddle things, too, according to Hoerth. Versions 3 and 4 of Internet Explorer, if installed on systems running Access databases, alter the windowing rule to interpret years in the range 00 to 29 as 2000 to 2029 and years in the range 30 to 99 as 1930 to 1999.

MFX America is touting its 5M MFX 2000 package, downloadable from the Web at www.mfxamerica.com, to clean up such muddles now or next year by fixing the date logic of almost any type of program at the hexadecimal level. The $345 remediation and audit package reports by vendor each installed program or component with short-date logic errors'valuable for troubleshooting if nothing more.


'Susan M. Menke
Internet: smenke@gcn.com

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