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ARE YOU FED UP WITH THE Y2K BUG?

Users of Win 95 and older software should use the free upgrade to 2000 complianceBy Neil McCubbinYou are probably thoroughly fed up with reading and hearing about the "Year 2000 bug" more succinctly ...


June 1, 1999
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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Users of Win 95 and older software should use the free upgrade to 2000 complianceBy Neil McCubbin

You are probably thoroughly fed up with reading and hearing about the “Year 2000 bug” more succinctly known as the “Y2K” bug. It is also increasingly referred to, wrongly, as the “Y2K virus”. You will have to put up with hearing about Y2K for some time, but I do not intend to let worries about the Y2K bug affect my celebration of the New Year. There are so many precautions being taken that a catastrophe seems very unlikely, although there may well be some minor nuisances.

This month we will look at some ways of looking after your own computer as the millennium rolls along.

The next date when some systems using old, custom written software, or PCompatibles linked into older databases, may have trouble is the 9th September, because this is 9/9/99. This value in the date field was often used in the past as a flag for something invalid, or otherwise quite exceptional, instead of meaning the actual date. The only solution for this is to correct the software. It is not a Y2K problem but just reflects programming practices when the programmers were economizing on resources, and assuming their software would not still be in use in 1999.

For the more general Y2K problems that will show up after 31 December this year, the easiest defense is to buy all new computer hardware and software. Although that is a relatively expensive solution, it is one reason to replace antique computers, beyond those mentioned in last month’s column. Unfortunately, even a brand new system on your desk will not protect you against Y2K bugs in the computers with which communicate.

If you want to check out your own computer, or small network, you can probably do all that is necessary yourself. For corporate systems, the check-up is best left to the professionals.

The major software and hardware vendors have a wealth of information on their web sites, including specific details on their own products. It is worth looking at the web site for your computer, which is probably www.makersname.com, and also for your software. If the software is so old that the manual does not have a web site address in it, then you may be in trouble if it deals with dates.

Generally, the major software vendors have released free patches to make software issued after about 1997 fully Y2K compliant, and major software first released in 1999 or later is generally Y2K compliant, subject to the lawyer’s fine print.

For Word Perfect and Corel’s other products, look at http://www.corel.com/year2000/index.htm, and click on the icon for the “Product Information Guide”.

For Microsoft products, look at http://officeupdate.microsoft.com/focus/Catalog/focusY2K.htm. Microsoft advises upgrading their widely used “Office” suite (Word, Excel, Access, Power Point, etc.) with their Service Release-2. This software is free and available on the Microsoft web site, but it is a large file, and I have yet to find a connection that runs long enough on my modem to achieve the full download. Service Release 2 can also be ordered on a CD from Microsoft at no charge, on the above web site.

It is good office practice to use 4-digit years when entering data, typing letters or constructing spreadsheets, so that if dates are transferred to a program or computer that is not fully Y2K compliant, there is less chance of errors. Microsoft presents detailed instructions on making your computer present dates with 4-digit years at http://officeupdate.microsoft.com//Focus/Articles/4digityr.htm.

UPGRADE TO

WINDOWS 98?

Many people are still using Windows 95, on the basis that the upgrade is not worth the cost in time and cash. We take this approach, although we buy Widows 98 with any new machines. There will be a number of problems with Windows 95 after 31 December 1999, and it is a little complicated to know whether you will be affected seriously. It is easier to use the free Microsoft upgrade for Win95 than to study the issue in detail. That is what we did, after wasting time trying to analyze the dangers of ignoring the upgrade.

Microsoft has already released the update for Win95 that will make it Y2K compliant for English language versions, and has announced that versions for other languages, including Canadian French, will be available by summer 1999.

All Microsoft software, including Windows 95, can be checked for Y2K compliance at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/year2k/product/product.htm. Follow the trail to Win 95 to download the year 2000 update. Normally, it is best to save downloaded files in a new directory. The download file is called W95Y2K.EXE and the size is 2.2 Mb. As with most software updates, the file is a self-extracting compressed file, so all you need do is double click on it in Windows Explorer and follow instructions. The upgrade took about 5 seconds on one of our computers. By the time I had closed all the running software and the requisite reboot had been completed, the total time was about five minutes. That did not include, of course, the time to find the file in the first place, download it and read the (very simple) instructions.

An upgrade to Windows 98 is an alternative cure, but the free Win95 upgrade is cheaper and easier. It will probably be sufficient until either Windows 2000 comes along, or your computer wears out.

Microsoft recommends upgrading Internet Explorer 4 for year 2000. However, it makes more sense to just install version 5, which is free.

HARDWARE ISSUES

The foregoing addresses software issues, mostly concerning the Windows operating system. If your hardware cannot handle dates properly, then it may be necessary to replace the BIOS chip. This is cheap, if the manufacturer makes the update available, but may be impossible for some older machines.

One easy check is to go to DOS, set the date to 31 December 1999, and the time to 23:58. Use the “date” and “time” commands in DOS. Then shut the machine down, wait five minutes and start it up. If the date displays properly when “date” is entered in DOS, and your key software works OK, then the bios and hardware clock are probably OK. If not, you have to either live with the results, or contact the hardware supplier.

If you perform this test in summer, then the computer may set the clock back off daylight savings time automatically, when it sees the December date. To overcome this, either wait at least 1 hour and 5 minutes before restarting, or simply reset to 23:58 a second time.