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1998-04-15 10:26:55


Asian Calendars Don't Mention 2000; Hence, Lack of Concern



Because Asian calendars are not tied to the West's, there is little sense of urgency in Asia over the year 2000. (There isn't much in the West, either.) But their computers and programs were designed in the West. Their systems are at risk.

If Asia goes down, the West's economy will go down.

This is from USA TODAY (April 13).

* * * * * * * *

Some Asian companies have their own solution to the computer conundrum known as the Year 2000 problem.

There can't be a millennium bug, they reason, if there is no millennium.

An unknown number of companies in Thailand, Taiwan and even Japan believe falsely, the experts insist that they are inoculated against calamity because their computers are programmed to recognize traditional cultural calendars rather than the Western one. . . .

In hard-hit Southeast Asia, ''a lot of people are thinking, 'Hey, my business has got to get through the next six months, then I can start thinking about the Year 2000 problem,' '' says Tokyo-based Mac Jeffery of IBM Asia Pacific.

There are still those in Asia who insist they have nothing to fear:

At many businesses and government offices in Thailand, for example, this is not 1998, the year on the Gregorian calendar used by Western countries. Instead, it is 2541, as recorded on the traditional Thai calendar that originates with the birth of Buddha. Hence, no problem until 2600.

In Taiwan, this is 1987. There, the 20th century didn't get started until 1911, the year China's last imperial dynasty was toppled and a republic established. So what's the rush, some Taiwanese companies ask. ''Most people still think the (Taiwanese republican) calendar can win them 11 more years. And if not, they can just get rid of the old computers and install new ones,'' says Roger Chang, a technology consultant to the Taiwan's government.

Even in technologically sophisticated Japan, there may be a handful of businesses using an imperial datebook that starts ticking with each emperor's reign. Those Japanese live in the year Heisei 10, having flipped open a new calendar when Emperor Akihito took the throne a decade ago.

In all three countries, it is common for receipts, invoices, bank passbooks and letters to be dated by traditional means, a phenomenon that often confounds outsiders.

But traditional calendars offer no protection from the millennium bug because the underlying operating system and other software in virtually all computers recognize the Western calendar. ''Deep in the core operating system, the machine knows it's 1998. It's just recalculated,'' IBM's Jeffery says.

Asian businesses have been slow to analyze the layers of their computer systems and prioritize the functions customer service, building safety, quality control, payrolls and others that must be up and running Jan. 1, 2000. They have dragged their feet in hiring extra programmers, who were already in short supply in the region. And they have been sluggish in alerting investors to the risks and costs that could be incurred if there are glitches.

On the other hand, some Western experts say Japanese programmers are spending too much time analyzing the problem and not enough time rewriting software code for trial-and-error systems tests. They attribute the reluctance to test with Japan's cultural aversion to failure.


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