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1997-11-18 08:44:16


A Business Debacle on Your Desk, Says Major Computer Publication



INFOWORLD (Nov. 10) devoted an issue to the PC problem. For businesses, this is a problem that will not go away by itself. Here are a few snippets from the introduction.

The problem extends to wherever there are systems dependent on PC's, especially older PC's. All over Latin America, old PC's are being used for primary applications. In US manufacturing operation systems, nearly forgotten 386 and 286 machines are still running systems. They must be fixed. If they aren't, the domino effect takes over.

* * * * * *

That shiny new PC on your desk may harbor a dirty little secret: It might not like the millennium very much. In fact, desktop infrastructure -- PCs, servers, network equipment, and the software that runs on it -- suffers from the same year-2000 affliction that plagues many legacy applications. Multiple date formats, multiple versions of hardware systems and software applications, and informal end-user developed tools such as spreadsheets further complicate the problem. . . .

Fixing PCs may be as simple as setting their clock once after Jan. 1, 2000 -- a task that will be simplified if your network client synchronizes PC time with the server. But in cases in which the PC clock has to be set at every boot up or it does not accept a post-1999 date at all, consider upgrading the hardware; often these upgrades are year-2000-compliant.

We looked at OSes next. MS-DOS will make the transition just fine, assuming that the hardware does as well. If the hardware doesn't, neither can DOS; DOS sets its clock based on the BIOS. In cases in which the PC doesn't make the transition smoothly, DOS will work fine until the first time it is rebooted after 1999. The same is true for Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. . . .

We then examined desktop applications, specifically spreadsheet programs. Spreadsheet software can be quirky, so there are a few things of which to be aware. Microsoft Excel for Office 97, for example, uses 30 as a pivot year. So, if you use a two-digit year in a date field, years less than 30 will be in the 21st century. Years greater than or equal to 30 will be in the 20th century. In other words, 20 stands for 2020, but 30 stands for 1930. This is not a bug; it is the program's way of eliminating ambiguity about the century. But it is something that users should understand, particularly if they import data from other sources or exchange data with applications that have different pivot years. . . .

The PC year-2000 headache is compounded by the fact that, unlike many legacy applications, you can't fix the source code. Of course, there are patches and upgrades that fix some of the problems in BIOSes, operating systems, and applications. But you can't, for instance, get your hands on the source code to Excel and modify it to understand how your loan department enters dates into spreadsheets. You have to fix the spreadsheets individually and make sure that the users understand how they work. The desktop-infrastructure side of the problem is decentralized and resides on individual desktops, and that is where you must fix it. . . .

TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE. To help with the inventory process, there are some very good year-2000-specific tools on the market. The best we found was Check 2000, from Greenwich Mean Time. The product is easy to install and run, and it tests the PC BIOS for year-2000 compatibility. It also will tell you things such as whether Windows is set to display dates with two-digit or four-digit years. . . .

Go to your vendors first -- they are the ones who got you into this mess anyway. And don't think they aren't nervous about it. . . .

Second: test, test, test. This is critical. To deal with the problem, you have to understand what happens to your systems in the year 2000. You should set up your own "year-2000 lab" to test the key components of your infrastructure.


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