Corrections or additions?
Y2K and PCs: Start Worrying?
These articles were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January 6,
1999. All rights reserved.
The bottom line about the Millennium Bug is that
Law — that everything that could go wrong will go wrong —
will come down with the same punctuality as the Macy’s ball above
Times Square. From phones to airplanes to elevators to mainframes,
anything computerized is subject to malfunction when the big tick
As the hour of Y2K reckoning creeps closer, doomsday enthusiasts are
tweaking the intensity of their Y2K prognostications. The fixes for
Y2K are proving much more expensive than even the most pessimistic
predictions. The Securities & Exchange Commission has required public
companies to disclose their remedies, and the estimates have soared.
Business Week reports that the average expenditure is 26 percent more
than previous estimates. AT&T has raised the prospective tab from
$300 million to $900 million, for instance.
But a completely unheralded universe of chaos could also be unleashed
on the PC world. No, this won’t have the magnitude or malice of the
mainframe Millennium Bug, but it could cause small businesses serious
problems. While Macintoshes seem immune to Y2K problems, experts are
warning that many DOS and Windows-based personal computers are far
from immune. Many PC clocks still use two-digit date fields. When
the clock hits "00," it will be interpreted by older
basic input/output systems (BIOS) as 1900 or 1980, a potentially
scenario for many computers still in use.
Another problem is with leap years. There will be a February 29th
in 2000, although there was not one in 1900. That poses another
source of trouble for some systems.
Jim Scott, chief financial officer of VLearn International at
4365 Route 1 South (609-514-5000), estimates that 90 percent of all
PCs sold before 1997 are going to have a BIOS program. "Some of
the BIOSs will be fixable with software fixes and some of the BIOSs
themselves are going to have to be changed out. You’ll have a
where a lot of people have to do something about it."
And in this regard, most PC users are in luck. Free PC Y2K diagnostic
kits are floating around in cyberspace. The National Software Testing
Laboratories’ Ymark2000, a free program, can be downloaded from
http://www.nstl.com.. This dandy little tool takes a few
minutes to download and activate and runs on your computer’s DOS.
U.S. 1 tried the software on four of its machines. Two of the systems
— a two-year-old with Windows 95 and a five-year-old running
3.1 — required a manual date change to enable the system to
the year 2000. Once that date change was made, however, the two
would both be able to handle the leap year changes. Two new computers
— PCs with Windows 98 and a newer version of Windows 95 —
both passed all of the YMark2000 tests.
If your system is non-compliant, the NSTL reports, the fix can be
as simple as a BIOS upgrade or as expensive as getting a whole new
computer. Software programs can fix the problem, but they must be
run every time the computer is booted. However, the NSTL feels that
software patches are "not reliable."
Here’s a couple more solutions: Manually set the date every time the
system is turned on. Or have the date automatically retrieved from
a network. However, the NSTL warns, "most networks seem to exhibit
human traits too."
There’s yet another host of Y2K software snags, and most won’t be
discovered until the cold winds of January, 2000, blow. "There
are over 20,000 PC software programs on the market and that’s not
including all the versions and revisions and updates of software
says Scott. "Nobody knows the full extent of the Y2K compliance
of those software programs."
VLearn feels that the software dilemma is best solved by the
Its package, PC-Aid 2000, is an "employee awareness training
for corporations with large PC networks," says Scott. This works
at the desktop level.
So the Millennium Bug for PCs is a dust mite compared to the
tse-tse fly. Gene Goroschko, senior systems engineer for
Computer Support at Princeton Business Park in Rocky Hill, is relieved
that most of that paranoia is staying within mainframe environs.
average home user who’s not using any type of accounting package,
the only thing you’re going to have is messed up dates, and that’s
not a very big deal," he says.
The biggest PC-based problems will affect small businesses that use
PCs for accounting functions.
However, Goroschko reports, not much is being made of the potential
problems that could be encountered by Windows 95 users who don’t
to Windows 98. Only the most-recent Windows 95 release is compliant,
he says. "I think there should be a lot more said that most 95
versions are not compliant."
"We are going to survive no matter what the doom and gloom people
are saying," says Mike Cervine, a Y2K project manager for
Panasonic in Secaucus. Cervine is also co-founder of the New Jersey
Year 2000 User’s Group, which meets at various locations around the
state. (For more information, contact Cervine at E-mail:
"The most serious problems are going to occur in businesses that
need to use dates a lot. For the rest of us, it’s probably not a
Ultimately, says Cervine, dysfunctional date fields are just a
of their architect: us. "The real problem is we ourselves and
the way we use PCs," says Cervine. "For a number of years
part of the problem was people like Bill Gates saying, `There’s not
But Cervine does see a bright side: For once, he reports, MIS people
have an absolutely fixed deadline. "It’s a unique experience,"
he says. "We really won’t know all of the pieces until that day
happens, probably the next business day (that’s a Monday). This one,
if you miss it, you’re out of business."
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has
launched a new FaxBack service to help small business owners deal
with the Y2K millennium bug. This service gives small business owners
and the public access to Year 2000 information and possible solutions.
SBA’s Y2K FaxBack service is available 24 hours-a-day by calling a
toll-free number: 1-877-RU-Y2K-OK (1-877-789-2565). The caller can
make a selection from a menu and within minutes receive a fax targeted
to their specific Y2K needs. In dealing with the Year 2000 problem,
SBA urges small business owners to take three immediate steps:
software, or embedded data chips. A self-assessment test is available
on the SBA’s Internet Y2K web page. (www.sba.gov/y2k/)
your problem and test the results. Develop contingency plans to deal
with effects of Y2K problems outside your control.
A free kit of worksheets and templates can help entrepreneurs work
through their Year 2000 vulnerabilities. You need to do this, says
Irene Dec, vice president of corporate information technology
for Prudential (E-mail: email@example.com). It’s not enough
to merely look at your hardware and software: "The year 2000 is
a business problem, not just a technical challenge. It impacts all
governments and businesses globally, everyone from the federal
to local municipalities."
"At Prudential we have moved aggressively on the Year2K fix so
that it will be a non-event to our customers. Also a year ago we put
together a Year 2000 kit for small businesses that cannot afford to
hire a consultant," says Dec.
Available free on Prudential’s home page
the kit explains what the Year 2000 problem is, helps you answer the
question `What do I have to do?’, and offers a 15-page plan to help
solve Year 2000 problems.
The three phases of Year 2000 solutions are, says Dec, awareness,
assessment, and action. Her kit provides worksheets and templates
similar to those you would use for a "do-it-yourself" will.
One of the worksheets, for instance, is an inventory, and it tells
you what you need to look for, how to document it, and where to get
information. For instance, you must write down the manufacturer’s
name, model number, year of manufacture, and serial number for each
of your computers. Then you go to that manufacturer’s website and
look up whether that particular model is Y2K compliant. Manufacturers’
webpages can also yield compliance information on cellular phones
The worksheet helps you figure out what you are using a particular
computer or piece of equipment for. Is it supporting a core business?
Or are you only doing word processing on it? And what system is it
running on? The core business worksheet requires you to estimate the
risk factors for hardware and software for each function: accounts
payable, accounts receivable, advertising and marketing, invoicing,
payroll, and tax reporting.
A business owner can track through the worksheets and realize, "It
is not a big deal for us, all I need to do is replace one PC,"
or "It is a big deal, but it will not bring us to a halt."
The most slippery piece for any entrepreneur is in the area of
"If I am not going to be able to get my supplies, I may want extra
supplies in the fourth quarter, or I may want to think about who I
would go to if my current supplier is not capable," says Dec.
Reed Smith Shaw & McClay has identified Y2K-related problems that
could surface in these kinds of business transactions:
Reed Smith advises to sell "as is" and exclude warranties.
500 computer chips. This means that everything from the temperature
the on-board coffee to the fuel mixture could get screwed up.
want to know if your business has a Year 2000 plan first.
is working diligently to bring the Y2K problem under control, some
are worried that efforts by other countries won’t be as diligent.
for most companies isn’t so much who is going to sue us or even who
can we sue, but a more practical problem is will this Y2K problem
cause a commercial divorce to occur for me," says Calvin
of the law firm.
Jones contends that it is a firm’s legal duty to conduct internal
investigations to determine what could go wrong for them and external
investigations of the companies they do business with. "Among
the things a firm should be doing — and they should consult an
attorney on this — is determine whether business partners can
get out of their contract if there is a Y2K problem," says Jones.
"If there’s a big enough problem, people are going to look at
their contracts and say `hey can I get out of this thing.’ People
are going to get mad at each other and the question is will they be
able to get out of their contract."
Y2K could be a convenient scapegoat for other business difficulties
from which a company might want to extricate itself. "There may
be strains in existing business relationships, maybe market conditions
have changed so that somebody is not getting the kind of deal they
thought they were getting, and they’re looking for a way to get
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.