When our computer clocks roll over to the 21st century, we will all be affected in one way or another, unless computer-dependent companies and institutions solve the date 2000 problem now.
The year is often stored in computers as a two-digit number, and therefore, 1999 is stored as 99. Similarly, 2000 will be stored as 00. For the typical computer, a future date is always larger than a past date. Without the century digits, the last day of this millennium will be 12-31-99, and after the stroke of midnight many computers will see Jan. 1, 2000 as 01-01-00, a smaller number than the day before. This type of error will affect any calculation that uses dates with two-digit representation. For example, if you make a payment in 1999 for bills that become due in 2000 and the vendor's software interprets the billing date year "00" as 1900, your payment will appear to be 99 years late.
While the year 2000 problem is associated with large computing systems, it will affect desktop computers as well. Based on the predictions of year 2000 experts, upwards of 80 percent of existing PCs are unreliable. The Basic Input Output System (BIOS) that resides in Read Only Memory (ROM) in more than 90 percent of current PCs will not show the correct date after midnight Dec. 31, 1999. You can test your computer in the following way.
* When you turn your computer on, don't start any network applications.
* Set the date to 31 December 1999.
* Set the time to 23:58 (11:58 P.M.)
* Check that the date and time have been set.
* Switch off the computer and wait five minutes.
* Switch the computer back on.
* Check the date and time. It should be a few minutes after midnight on Jan. 1, 2000. (Important! Once you complete your test, do not forget to reset your PC to the correct date and time.)
In addition to the hardware, client applications such as spreadsheets, databases, accounting packages, day-timers and e-mail programs could be affected, especially if these applications use the PCs date and time. For example, check the contents of the "DATE" field in your e-mail system. If this date shows two-digit years, then your e-mail system is not year 2000 compliant. And your problem is growing. You may be integrating e-mail data to a database that accumulates records based on dates.
At Emory the freshman class will graduate in the year 2000. So we are already dealing with the problem. But there are fewer than 900 working days between now and Jan. 1, 2000, to complete all work that must be done. In the past, if we missed a delivery date, we could continue to use existing applications for a little longer. When the year 2000 arrives, the programs we used on 12/31/99 could be useless. According to Gartner Group, a large computer consulting firm, 90 percent of current applications must be fixed or will be affected by what is popularly called by many names: the century problem, the Date 2000 Problem, the Y2K, or the Millennium TimeBomb. Many systems will crash if they are not corrected before 1999--and many will be affected by unfixed integrated systems. It is predicted that worldwide costs to fix the year 2000 problem will reach $400 billion to $600 billion. As Information Week said, "The cost and hassle of fixing the date change may be sufficient reason to purchase and install client/server software that is 2000 capable."
The change could be managed on your desktop computer if you remember to incorporate the year 2000 problem into your planning. You are probably planning to replace your computer before 2000. Make sure that you ask if your new purchase is 2000 compliant. And be sure that all software installed on that new computer is 2000 capable.
(This is an excerpt of a longer article in the Sept./Oct. issue of "A Publication on Information Technology from Emory University")
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Mahbuba Ferdousi is a project specialist in University Information Systems of the Information Technology Division.