The Y2K Bug


The year 2000 problem could have been completely prevented had some early people envisioned the degree to which the microprocessor would change our lives. Surely, no one would have thought that in the early days of ENIAC that everything from your alarm clock to your car would be computerized. Even the IT managers of the 80\'s could not be blamed: The disk space savings from dropping the two digits of the date over 100 Million Records would represent almost 200 Megabytes! Space requirements aside, overhead on search times and disk loading/access are also added.

Surely one could have designed a system whereby the program would be aware of the century, regardless of the data records used. Hindsight is always 20/20 however, and this was almost never the case.

Regardless where you address the problem from, the year 2000 problem is a huge, expensive and international one. In many cases it is a problem lined with doubt as to it\'s effects. This paper will analyze the various aspects to the year 2000 problem, classical and software solutions to the problem, and present the author\'s ideas on how a systematic approach to the "millennia virus" can prevent doomsday from becoming a reality for many information technology managers and their corporations.

What, specifically, _is_ this "millennia virus" to begin with? There has been much talk about it, and most people know it has something to do with the date formats and how they are processed by the computer. How it is affecting that processing is what the key to implementing a solution is.

There are several forms the "bug" will metamorphose into. For example:

Field / Date Processing
Time based calculations
Hardware failure

Will all be affected by the problem.

"OLD will seem YOUNG, a FEW moments will seem like an ENTIRE century, FUTURE

events will have ALREADY occurred."

-- Duncan G. Connall <[email protected]>, Global Software, Inc.

Scope of Problems

The scope of this problem is immense. The awareness and information available on this problem is growing rapidly, as a observation of the rate at which the amount of information available on the Internet has been growing. An advanced search of "year AND 2000 AND problem" through the Altavista index yielded 60000 pages!

Even this volume of information does not sufficiently judge the magnitude of the problem. Early IBM-PC machines and compatibles will be rendered useless

for date applications without running software patches as the system clocks on the hardware level will not handle the four-letter date format.

This problem is not only limited to personal computers and mainframes, however. Most electronic devices that make use of dates will have serious unpredictable problems. The micro controllers that are in car ignition control systems, clocks, microwaves, and even nuclear weapons all suffer from the same problem. The unpredictable effects come from both the microprocessor sed in the device and the compiler or linker used to generate the code;

As any programmer knows, when software is given a input which it does not expect, anything can happen. Anything ranging from an error message to a serious program crash. The material effects of these could be anything from your BIOS preventing your computer from booting to your car not starting the morning after your millennium party.

Strange effects have already begun to occur with many programs on the PC platform not understanding the 2000 year field, or when it is entered, defaulting to 00 or 1900. This is of particular concern with widespread versions of home database and spreadsheet software becoming obsolete unless patches are released to fix this behavior. For many companies, however, the attitude has been to make a complete upgrade of the software necessary - hardly an ideal solution for the home user.

"According to a variety of experts, it will take, on average, 6 months to do and impact analysis of the systems before beginning another three to six months worth of pilot projects. Then, production itself could easily take a couple of years, depending on the size of your business and the availability of resources. And those resources, whether in-house or outside services, will become increasingly scarce as time runs out: "We\'re telling people to book their services by the second half of 1996 at the latest,"

-- Bruce Hall, IT