This article by Stuart L. Adams, Jr. appeared in the
Louisville Computer News
Much has been said by me and others about the inevitable, rapidly approaching Y2K crisis. In previous articles in this publication, Ive tried to warn you or scare you into taking those steps you still can, in order to protect yourself, your family and your business from potential fallout of this problem. This article will attempt to deal with some simple steps anyone can take, including the computer illiterate, to assist in resolving the problem.
This is certainly not intended to be a crash computer course or Y2K remediation manual. It is simply a series of tips, some of which may help you. I also specifically disclaim any liability if your computer "explodes," erases invaluable data you needed for that life or death presentation on Monday, or causes you to have to actually pay to have a real consultant come fix your machine. Dont send me the bill. Getting nervous again, are you? Its really not that bad, so lets get started.
TALKING THE "Y2K" TALK
You already know that the Millennium "Bug" is not a virus, but is a problem in both hardware and software. There are six primary areas of concern for the average user, because of the way PCs operate.
The System Clock is a physical chip powered by a battery, called the CMOS/RTC (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor/Real Time Clock), whose function is to remember the system setup and configuration information and keep track of "real time" when the computer power is off.
The BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is a tiny program which is loaded into memory automatically when you turn on the computer. It is designed to recognize and control access to parts of the machine, such as the monitor, disk drives and system clock.
The Operating System, such as Windows 98 and others, communicates with the BIOS, coordinates the sharing of the system components so they dont conflict with each other and runs all the other software applications you use on your system.
Software Applications are the programs you had preinstalled on your system when you bought it or which you added later, such as WordPerfect® or Quicken®.
Data Files are those work products you create and save to your hard drive, floppy or other media, such as letters you created in WordPerfect® or spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel®. These are probably things you dont want to loose.
Peripherals are those external hardware devices, such as printers, backup units, and modems.
When you turn off your computer, the CMOS/RTC holds the date and time. When you power on your computer, the BIOS wakes up the CMOS/RTC and asks it to report the date and time. Once the BIOS has gone through its program functions, the operating system will load, so you can start to use your application, or programs. Those applications which need the date, will typically get it from the operating system, which has received it as set out above. You can thus see that all these parts must be Y2K-OK in order for your system to operate correctly and give you proper work product.
WHAT STEPS DO I TAKE TO FIX MY Y2K PROBLEMS?
The basic steps to determining if you have a problem and, if so, fixing it, are as follows:
Take a complete inventory of all hardware, software, and peripherals which you use;
Test and evaluate each one of these components to identify date-related problems;
Determine from the vendors (most have this information posted on their Web sites) what problems they admit and fixes (patches or upgrades) they have available. You can check your license agreements to see if you think they should fix any problems and you can send them letters asking for assurances that what they sold you is free of problems, but its getting a little late in the game to wait for the answer and go to plan B if you dont get immediate favorable results. You can also look for online user discussion groups, some of which are sponsored by the vendors, to pick up problems and fixes for particular installations.
Determine what relationships and interfaces (such as online banking or brokerage links, customer or supplier links) you have with third parties and assess their readiness to continue such relationships with you without causing you problems;
Formulate your options to resolve problems, starting with the most critical first;
Start immediately replacing, fixing, upgrading or otherwise resolving your problems, starting with the most critical first;
Conduct a system-wide test of the "fixed" system to determine, as best you can, whether your steps have been successful.
When you look at vendor information as part of the process to determine if you have a problem, dont be fooled by the lingo. Many vendors use the term "Year 2000 Ready," for instance. This generally means that it has the capacity to be compliant, but you may not necessarily believe that it is now. "Year 2000 Compliant," on the other hand, should mean that it will always accurately process time and date information from the year 1999 beyond the year 2000, including leap year calculations. There are a number of other terms used, such as ready or compliant "with issues." This may mean the product should get you through the initial date change, but like some spreadsheet programs, will not calculate or function properly beyond another date, such as 2050. This could give you problems in calculating insurance, retirement and other matters, with errors which will not become apparent until it is too late to correct them. Dont trust any of these definitions. Test all hardware and software.
BACK UP, BACK UP
Before you do any testing, be sure to back up at least all your data files. You might consider using two methods to back up or back up to two different media, such as to a tape drive and a Zip drive. At a minimum, make sure you use error checking when backing up and that you have any driver disks on hand, so you can reinstall your backup equipment to another computer in the event of an unrecoverable error.
TESTING THE CMOS
To test your CMOS, after youve backed up, disconnect your computer from any network. Turn your machine on and enter the CMOS setup utility (done during the warm up phase, as you will note if you watch the screen) and enter the date/time option on the menu. Change the date to December 31, 1999 and time to 23:55:00. Exit back through the CMOS utility program and remember to save your changes when prompted. Turn your machine off for at least ten minutes and turn it back on as usual. If the machine comes back on and indicates it is now January 1, 2000, it has passed this test. If not, youve got a problem. In either event, follow the same procedure and change the time and date back to current settings. To test for leap year calculation, instead of resetting to current date, use the same method to change the CMOS to February 28, 2000 at 12:55:00, exit the CMOS setup utility saving the setting on the way, and again turn it off for at least ten minutes. When powered back up, it should now read March 1, 2000.
If your BIOS has failed the CMOS resetting test, you may have several options. You may be able to obtain a simple software program over the Internet or otherwise from the manufacturer of the computer, its motherboard or BIOS manufacturer. These are usually put on a floppy and, by running the execution command for the program, will automatically update your BIOS so it is Y2K compliant. If such a patch is not available, there are now relatively inexpensive BIOS boards available, which purport to be able to override an old BIOS. If all else fails, you can replace your motherboard for a few hundred dollars, which is obviously much less than buying a new computer.
TESTING A WINDOWS 95 OPERATING SYSTEM
Click on Start/Settings/Control Panel on your toolbar on the bottom of your screen. This should open your Control Panel allowing you to then click on the Regional Settings icon. Click on the date tab and change the short date style to M/d/yyyy and the long date style to dddd,mmmm,dd,yyyy. Click on "apply" and then OK. Then, in the control panel click on the Date/Time icon. Set this to 11:55:00 p.m. on January 31st, 1999 and click "apply" and then OK. Turn the machine off for ten minutes and see if the date has changed to January 1, 2000. If so, this is OK and you can use the same date reset indicated for the BIOS leap year test and then reset to the current time and date.
There are known Y2K problems with MS-DOS 6.22, Windows 3.11, Windows 95 and even Windows 98. For information and link to a patch for the Widows 98 problem start at: http://www.microsoft.com/windows98/highlights/Win98Y2K.asp. There are fixes for most of these earlier versions, which you can access, starting at ftp://ftp.microsoft.com/softlib/mslfiles.
BEYOND THE PC - EMBEDDED CHIPS
This column is long enough already but far too short to deal with this problem in depth. Keep in mind, however, that the Y2K problems reach far beyond your PCs. The embedded chip issue (microchips with mini programs used to control a wide variety of devices) extends to fax and copying machines, security and HVAC systems, elevators and phone systems, production equipment, medical devices, automobiles, traffic devices, etc. Almost anything that has a digital readout is suspect, in terms of having an embedded chip issue, right down to that fancy new coffee pot with a timer, your VCR (which always says: "12:00" anyway) and the digital watch on your wrist.
Rather than making separate chips with different functions, it is often cheaper for manufacturers to make embedded chips with a great deal of programming initially installed and to then simply "turn off" selective functions if the customer does not want to pay for some of them. Unfortunately, both middle manufacturers, who are incorporating the chips in finished products, and certainly end users, will not completely understand nor have access to knowledge about the full impact of date functions within the embedded programming of such chips. This has been demonstrated recently by the turnaround by some auto manufacturers, who initially denied Y2K problems in their embedded chips, but who now acknowledge there may be serious problems.
The good news is that the price of new PCs has dropped like a rock in the last year. The power, accessories and options available on these machines have, at the same time, increased dramatically because of technological advances and increased competition between vendors. This means you can get a brand new and substantially more powerful machine for a fraction of what it would have cost you only a year or two ago for a lesser unit. Although there are no "silver bullets" on the horizon, there is an avalanche of software patches for applications, BIOS replacement cards and diagnostic programs already on the market or about to be released. This should allow you to more carefully and accurately diagnose your strengths and weaknesses and resolve many more of these on your own.
The bad news is that the deadline is immovable. Many companies which initially "beefed up" with technicians ready to fix problems, are now downsizing because of lower than expected demand for such services. Additionally, like storm chasers after a hurricane or flood, there are consultants who are instant experts, as well as software programs and hardware "fixes" that will neither accurately diagnose nor completely fix your problems. My advice is to stick to the "name" brands on hardware and software. Read the online or other reviews of products to test or fix Y2K problems. In terms of consultants, check references thoroughly, read the agreement, in terms of your remedies if they dont fix the problems and look at bonding with a reputable company which will still be around after the consultant is gone. Finally, dont wait until the last minute or give up because you think it is already too late. For small and mid-sized companies, there is still time if you act now. The clock is ticking and there are many problems already surfacing now, so dont presume you have until the Millennium rollover to get your solutions in place.
More detailed, user friendly information is available online and by reading books such as Year 2000 Solutions for Dummies by K.C. Bourne (no offense intended) and Year 2000 Personal Computer Fix-it Guide by J D Consulting (complete with a plethora of trial versions of diagnostic software on CD).