The Millenium Bug

 

This is my effort to provide some useful information concerning the Year 2000 problem -- the Millenium Bug -- as it relates to personal computers and networks. There seems to be a lot of discussion about the effects of the problem, but very little of what to do about it.  To that end, I will try to pass along some practical advice.

If you have come across some information that you found particularly helpful, please email  the reference to me at: year2000@truslow.com.

Many of my clients are concerned about an action plan to meet the challenge.

IBM has a java based tutorial on the subject.

Contents

bulletWhat is the "Year 2000 Issue"?
bulletWhat equipment is affected?
bulletHow do you tell if you have the problem?
bulletHow do you fix it?
bulletWindows patches and fixes
bulletHow do you define compliance?
bulletIs 100% compliance reasonable?
bulletWhich vendors are working on the problem?

What is the "Year 2000 Issue"?

On a simple level, some hardware and software does not properly roll-over to the proper date on January 1, 2000.  Some that manage to roll-over properly do not maintain the proper date when rebooted.  The problem is can originate in

bulletsystem RTC (Real Time Clock) -- a chip on the PC motherboard that maintains the time even when the PC is turned off

bulletsystem BIOS  (Basic Input/Output System) -- a chip on the PC motherboard that among many other things, passes the time from the RTC to the operating system

bulletsystem OS (Operating System, i.e. DOS, Windows)

bulletApplications -- there are many ways to represent dates, and it seems that each vendor chooses a different way.

Commonly a "pivot date" is chosen, for example Microsoft Excel uses 30. If you enter a two digit year of  29 or less it is assumed to be a 21st century date of 2029.  If however, you enter 30 or greater, it is assumed to be a 20th century date of 1930.  Just to keep things interesting, most Microsoft applications have different pivot years.

Other vendor's applications count the number of seconds elapsed since January 1, 1970. This scheme works fine until the year 2038 when the limit of 2,147,483,648 seconds is reached.

It is helpful to consider the fact of 2000 also being a leap year -- also a known date related problem. Just to make matters worse, many systems that schedule a year in advance will have problems starting January 1, 1999. Another known problem is September 9, 1999 (9/9/99) -- a commonly used expiration date. There are many others, but the point is that date dependencies are pervasive throughout many industries.

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What is affected?

My main focus will be file servers and workstation PCs. Windows NT 4.0 servers should manage themselves without any changes, but Netware 3.12 systems will require at a minimum, software patches for both servers and clients. Here is a link specific to 3.12 Y2K patch 2. In most cases it would probably be advantageous to purchase the Netware 3.2 Enhancement Pack for $349. It includes all the patches and improvements to 3.12 for both the server and workstations. Novell claims that these updates are fully Year 2000 compliant. Obviously, attention will need to  be given to the server hardware as well.

Windows 98/95, Windows 3.1x, and DOS workstation PCs will be fine if the hardware is capable, but may need assistance to set the century bit in the PCs permanent memory. .

Even though not the focus of this work, be aware that this issue affects nearly everything that uses or maintains dates, hardware and software. It affects from mainframes to PCs, to embedded micro-controllers. Your VISA or MasterCard... what, hadn't you thought about that yet? Have you ever seen a credit card with 00 on it? VISA International banned them in 1996 until they could get a handle on the problem.

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How do you tell if you have the problem?

On a simple level, you can check the PC hardware by changing the date on your PC to 11:59pm 12/31/99 and watching what happens. Try the same thing, but this time turn off the PC and leave it off for several minutes. In either case, turn if off/on again and check. Some PCs revert back after a power off.

From a systems point of view, there are some tools to assist with the gathering of compliance statistics.  One product that comes very well reviewed is Check 2000 from Greenwich Mean Time. It tests the BIOS for compatibility and can also inventory your PCs and applications to alert you to the general type of date related problems.  This application is available in single PC, five PC, and enterprise licensing levels. 

There are also some useful tools at www.rightime.com that include some basic year 2000 testing. Among these is a FREE utility called Test2000.  There are some additional utilities to view the contents of the RTC and CMOS, these are quite interesting.

National Software Testing Laboratories (NSTL) has an informative web page, and a BIOS testing tool called YMark2000.

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How do you fix it?

Patches, upgrades and replacements. Sounds simple, huh? The hard part is identifying the problem in detail.  The basic steps are:

bulletResearch the problem -- as you already seem to be doing
bulletInventory your assets carefully -- consider purchasing proper tools
bulletResolve the problem -- by patches, upgrades and replacements
bulletTest the solution -- Goes without saying, or does it?
bulletTrain your users -- Educate them to understand how to prevent problems, particularly with spreadsheet data and other user created data

Some PCs may require a one-time "boost" into the 21st Century, there is a century bit in CMOS non-volatile RAM that once set, will stay set. Since most network PCs synchronize their clocks with the server on boot up, that would happen automatically. Stand-alone PCs would need this step performed manually.  Gateway 2000 has an article describing the procedure for their systems, the steps are identical for other vendors

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Windows patches and fixes

bulletWindows 95 WIN95Y2K.EXE compliance patch here or here
bulletWindows 3.1 fixes.
bulletcompliant/compliant with "minor issues" here
bulletcompliance statements on all Microsoft software products
bulletYear 2000 Resource center
bulletOffice 97 Service Release 1 and 2
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Is 100% compliance reasonable?

To quote InfoWorld, "You may find that 100-percent compliance is an unreasonable goal. You have to cover what you can, starting with the most important issues first."

Don't let that lull you into complacency either.  Even though you may not be able to attend to the smallest detail, you should still try.  Obviously, some of you have a more daunting task than others.

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How do you define compliance?

The definition of Year 2000 compliance varies depending on who you ask. In plain language, to be considered compliant, a system must

bulletprocess dates before and after January 1, 2000 (at any time before or after that date)
bulletThe system clock must also smoothly make the transition from 1999 to 2000
bulletrecognize that 2000 is a leap year

The NSTL uses a stricter definition of Year 2000 readiness for x86-based PCs, including compatibility with the Motorola MC146818 real-time clock (RTC):

bulletMC146818 RTC compatibility. Some non-DOS-based operating systems, like UNIX, may not use the BIOS but use the drivers to access the clock directly. If the chip is not compatible, then these "other" operating systems or programs that read the clock directly may fail
bulletcentury byte is located at either 32h or 37h in RTC memory
bulletreal-time progression from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000
bulletthe ability to manually set the century via the BIOS should real-time progression fail
bulletrecognition of leap years, when appropriate, for Years 2000 through 2009 inclusive.
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Links

The following vendors and organizations have some useful links on the subject. In many cases, the best information to be found will come from web sites. If you have come across some information that you found helpful, please email me the reference to year2000@truslow.com.

bulletNSTL - National Software Testing Labs
bulletInfoWorld Test Center
bulletInfoWorld Vendor Resource Pages
bulletTick, tick, tick Y2K newsletter
bulletYear 2000 Information Center
bulletNovell's Project 2000
bulletMicrosoft Corporation
bulletGateway 2000
bulletDell Computer
bulletCompaq Computer
bulletIBM - International Business Machines
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Copyright 1998 Network Consulting & Support. All rights reserved.
Last modified: Saturday January 16, 1999.