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Computer Currents Magazine

First Published February 23, 1999 Bay Area Edition

The Year 2000 Revisited
Has the Y2K bug bit your PC? Find out with tools that analyze, report, and sometimes fix this date dilemma.

By Jim Aspinwall

In spite of all the media hysteria, many corporations haven't taken the Y2K "problem" seriously enough to evaluate their PCs, networks, and related systems. But the clarion call has been issued. Time is running out. The clock is ticking--but not for long.

Complacency doesn't cut it when it comes to keeping your office technology healthy. Your PCs, company network, e-mail, inventory systems, and commerce Web site are all woven into the fabric of your day-to-day business. Come January 1, 2000, either you'll be up and running, or you'll find your real and virtual doors shuttered.

Of course, you know that the Y2K bug--the inability of some computers and software to handle dates after December 31, 1999--affects more than your office PCs and network. Everything from traffic signals to the phone company to elevators relies on chips that track the date, and some of these systems may fail in the new millennium.

If you don't believe that a mere date transition will raise hell, think again. On January 1, 1999, my friend Mike strolled into his HMO's pharmacy to get his monthly prescriptions filled. The clerk asked him how he usually paid the bill--an odd request, since that information was already in their computers. Or was it? The HMO's computers didn't make the transition from 1998 to 1999 properly and my friend's records were "unavailable." The year 2000 problem had arrived--a year early.

More chillingly, Patrick Simonis, a Y2K consultant in Queensland, Australia, relates what one utility official told him. The utility doesn't expect to have its systems, embedded or otherwise, fully 2K-compliant until June 2001! And this is an organization with 200 engineers scouring every computer and instrument looking for compatibility and compliance issues.

Does this mean squashing the Y2K bug is beyond your company's humbler means? Not at all. Although there's not much you can do about traffic lights, there are plenty of affordable tools that can find, report, and sometimes fix the Y2K problems in your PCs, software, and data. This article takes another look at the Y2K problem and the products that can help you cope with it. The focus here is primarily on the PC; for a take on the Internet and your corporate intranet, seek out this issue's Net Surfer and Intranet Explorer columns.

Y2K Meets PC PDQ

Simply stated, the Y2K bug is not a single critter. It involves chips on your PC's motherboard, the operating system, applications, and even how you choose to store data (say, with date fields recording the year as 98 instead of 1998).

At the bottom of the Y2K food chain is a little chip known as the real-time clock (RTC). This chip keeps track of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years, but not of centuries. The PC's BIOS chip reads the date and time from the RTC, slaps 19 in front of the year field, and passes the information along to whatever wants it. The operating system may ask the BIOS for this information, or it may take it directly from the memory associated with the RTC and add the century digits itself. Applications usually ask for date/time data from the operating system, but sometimes they'll ask from the BIOS or,
rarely, from the RTC.

Naturally, if any link in the chain from RTC to application gets the wrong date or can't tell the difference between 1900 and 2000, you've got problems. Imagine the results if a spreadsheet macro called on a flawed date function in an amortization calculation that extended into 2004. Imagine the paroxysms your accounting or payroll program would experience if fed the wrong dates.

And the problem isn't restricted to hardware or software not rolling over correctly from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000. Programs and chips may also stumble over leap years or misinterpret certain real dates (such as 9/9/99), as an end of file marker or blank record data. Some applications, thanks to the development tools used to create them, may falter with other real-time or calculated dates, such as 2015, 2026, or 2038.

But wait--aren't cutting-edge companies like Microsoft on top of this problem? Um ... maybe not. Microsoft recently admitted that the supposedly Y2K-compliant Windows 98 had a few bugs. One bug involved file date stamping, another could cause the PC's date settings to jump ahead or back if Windows is loaded at just the right moment on December 31st of any year. Another affected the Microsoft Foundation Class Library, the underlying object code for innumerable Windows applications.

Feeling nervous?
Who Ya Gonna Call?

Don't reach for that St. John's Wort just yet. Yes, Y2K problems are real. Yes, there are tools that will unearth problems and others that attempt to fix them. And yes, a lot of the programs and services clamoring to solve your Y2K snarl don't do a good job. I note how these products fare below.

Before 2000 rolls around, you can do some simple tests on your own. (See my last article on Y2K at for the details.) But programs that you can download or buy can more thoroughly (and automatically) scrutinize your PC's clock, BIOS, and even your applications and data. Look for utilities that reboot the system as part of a test--it's the only way to ensure that drivers, TSRs, and other clutter in memory won't affect the results.

I evaluated dozens of Y2K programs and some add-in cards on two PCs. One PC is an ancient Tandy 486 running Windows 95 or DOS (depending on the test) that by all accounts is noncompliant. The second is a generic Pentium system
with an Award 4.50 BIOS running Windows NT 4.0 Server. The 486 can't be readily upgraded by any stretch of the imagination; the Pentium can certainly benefit from a BIOS upgrade, but the RTC is built into the Intel chipset and can't be physically replaced. Both systems present interesting challenges to the squadron of Y2K tools I tested--and some didn't pass muster.

Year 2000 test software comes in several flavors. The simplest check the date functions of the PC's RTC, BIOS, and maybe the operating system. Others will probe for tougher stuff, such as leap years and troublesome future dates, such as 2038. Still others will scan your software and compare it against a database of applications with known, suspected, or likely date issues. (The downsides are that the utilities can't fix your software, and the information for these databases comes from the vendors, who can be wrong about their own products.) Another class of tools will sift through your data files--database
records, worksheets, documents, and such--and flag potential date problems. With some, double-clicking the flagged file opens it in the appropriate application, so you can fix the error on the spot.

Some Y2K tools are free or working demos, others are commercial products. Most of those examined here are for stand-alone PCs, but some are definitely enterprise products (with price tags to match). As you'll see, what differentiates these products is how much they find, how many details they disclose, and what help (if any) they provide.

Putting Tests to the Test

What must a Y2K utility test to verify that your PC and its software are compliant? First, it should test the ability of the RTC to make the 1999-to-2000 transition by itself, without the help of the BIOS, with the PC or off.

Next is the date retention test--the ability of the RTC and BIOS to hold on to "20" century information after the rollover and even when the PC is turned on and off or rebooted. Most modern systems should pass this test easily. Even if the RTC doesn't pass this test, the BIOS may correct the problem.

This brings us to the BIOS. Most BIOS chips sold since 1995 should make the century transition just fine and should supply the correct century date. But if the BIOS doesn't, and reports the system date as 1900 or 1980, it must be replaced or corrected with a BIOS extension program or card. A Y2K tool must also check the RTC and BIOS for their abilities to recognize leap years (such as February 29, 2000) as valid dates. This shouldn't be a problem for most PCs, but if it is, you'll
have to replace the RTC (if you can) or the entire motherboard.

Even if your PC passes every hardware test, you'll need to test your operating system, applications, and data. If a Y2K test program finds that the first two are flawed, the solution is often to upgrade to the latest version. With data, you'll have to rewrite macros and formulas, recast database fields, and more. Programs written just for your company may have to be completely redone.

Alas, there's no single product that performs a complete Y2K compliance audit. Most of the cheap or free tools here will adequately assess the state of your BIOS and RTC. All of these tools performed basic date rollover and leap year tests correctly, and no tool passed a noncompliant PC or failed a compliant one.

One program, Enterprise Shaman, thoroughly scours your software across your LAN for specific date problems. But it will cost you $50,000. Fortunately, the $49.95 Norton 2000 is a close second and a good choice for small to medium-sized businesses.

Diagnostic Tools for Stand-Alone PCs

Accute Y2K Super Test 1.0 (Accute Year 2000 Solutions, free download, is one of the more complete test programs of the lot. Running from a bootable floppy, it performs all the must-have tests, evaluating the RTC, BIOS, year 2000 rollover, leap years from 2000 to 2004, 36 other dates between 1999 and 2005, and operating system compliance. It even checks to see if the RTC is a buffered or unbuffered device. (An unbuffered clock chip may report the wrong time if the system is running during the 1999 to 2000 transition.) This package supplies a lot of information, all for free.

AllClear 2000 2.7e (SIMCOM Software Pty. Ltd, list price: $37 for 10 uses, provides some of the most comprehensive hardware tests I've seen. Slap the program on a bootable floppy, and it runs through a series of basic tests, probes many critical dates, and records the results on disk so you have a history of the audit. Unregistered, the program will only test if the BIOS is an early AMI, Award, or Phoenix model with possible Y2K compliance issues; if the RTC is AT-compatible; and if the BIOS and RTC support 2000 and leap years from 2000 to 2004. If necessary, the test will reboot your PC and run rollover tests with various dates. The unregistered trial version is available at

The registered version adds the critical BIOS and RTC rollover tests and the RTC leap year 2001 to 2100 checks, as well as checking 17 other key dates that may be significant in date calculations and calendars. AllClear 2000 is useful, but watch out for the registration hassles and usage restrictions.

AMI2000 1.0 (American Mega trends, free download, is a fairly limited program that
can test RTC and BIOS rollover, as well as leap years from 2000 to 2005. AMI2000 doesn't run tests automatically, reboot the system, check date retention, or offer any recommendations.

Check 2000 PC Deluxe 3.1 (Greenwich Mean TimeöUTA, list price: $59.99, $280 site license, is not recommended. This Windows-based program misidentifies some software (for example, it thought a Windows 98 system was running Windows 95), and it only checks Windows' date/time functions, not the RTC or BIOS, so you don't get any direct information about the hardware. The program will scan your system for noncompliant applications and offer some boilerplate advice. But I couldn't find any way to update the program's Y2K reference database. Check 2000 Deluxe does
scan common data files (DAT, XLS, DB) down to the spreadsheet cell/database field level, but it offers little specific advice.

Know2000 1.0 (Year 2000 Group, list price: $19.95,, for Windows 3.x/95/98, provides no BIOS or
Windows-level Y2K or leap year information. Instead, it scans applications and spits out a brief summary of each program's Y2K readiness. The only problem is that there's no obvious way to update Know2000's reference list of 3,500 applications. The program will, however, create a vendor readiness inquiry letter for you to mail. You also get a copy of the YMark2000 test, which is also free from NSTL. Know 2000 is one tool not worth knowing.

Norton 2000 v. (Symantec, list price: $49.95, is a relabeled version of ViaSoft's OnMark
2000, and it's a winner. It checks Windows' short-date (MM/DD/YY) handling and basic 1999-to-2000 rollover and leap year functions. (You also get a separate DOS-based hardware test utility and a RTC patch program.) But the meat of this product is its application and data auditing. Every application on your hard disk is listed, along with known Y2K problems, rated by severity. This list can be updated via Norton's Live Update service. Common data files (from documents to
spreadsheets to database records) are scanned for problematic use of two-digit dates and other Y2K anomalies right down to the cell/field level, with the severity rated. You can get summary or detailed reports that list cells, contents, format, and so on, for easy examination.

Note that the application reference database can be updated via Norton LiveUpdate, but the list's currency ultimately depends on the vendors who supply the information. Still, Norton 2000 is one of the most complete, easy to use, and helpful Y2K analysis-cum-fixit tools around. For software diagnosis, it's the best. An enterprise version is also available.

OnTrack Y2K Advisor 1.01 (OnTrack Data Systems, free trial download, $20 for a 10-license pack,, for Windows 3.x, 95, 98, NT and OS/2, creates a bootable floppy containing a set of comprehensive and informative tests. OnTrack checks all the basics, plus leap years and reboot data retention. On Track Y2K Advisor 2.0 is my top hardware testing choice--it's easy to use, informative, and well-priced. The recently released
Commercial Edition 2.0 adds reporting and PC inventory features.

Prove It 2000 (Prove It 2000 Inc., list price: $46.95, is a bootable, DOS, floppy-based program
that runs a few basic RTC/ BIOS and leap year tests, then lists all the EXE and COM files on your system. Prove It neglects to note if any of these programs might have Y2K problems. The program does come with a memory-resident program that corrects BIOS century date information. Save your money and look elsewhere.

Test2000.Exe (RighTime Clock Co., free download demo, is the demo of Y2KPCPro. This demo tests
BIOS and RTC rollover, 2/2/2000 leap year validity, and retention of date information after a reboot. When finished, the program reports if the system is compliant at the BIOS level and if a software fix (such as Y2KPCPro) or BIOS replacement is recommended. It's a handy little tool--and it's free.

Year 2000 Evaluation Tool 4.1 (IBM, free download, is a DOS program that
creates a bootable floppy disk containing basic RTC and BIOS rollover tests and a single leap year check. The RTC test fails on some systems, but doesn't tell you why. I expected better from the folks that brought us the PC.

Year 2000 Now (IMSI Software, list price: $49.95, is a Windows 95, 98, and NT package that basically combines the less capable Check 2000 PC (which doesn't evaluate application or data compliance) with IMSI's UpdateNow
service. Unfortunately, Check 2000 and UpdateNow don't work together or communicate with each other to associate noncompliant applications Check 2000 finds with possible updates, leaving you to do the legwork. This is one Y2K tool you can live without.

YMark2000 (NSTL, free download, is a DOS test suite that checks the RTC's compatibility with Motorola MC146818 clock chip functions--significant if you rely on operating systems (such as Linux
and NT) or applications that access the RTC instead of the BIOS for date/time information. YMark2000 performs basic RTC and BIOS 1999-to-2000 rollover checks, as well as leap year checks from 2000 to 2009. The program doesn't share much information with the user, but it did identify the appropriate problems during my tests.

Enterprise Diagnostic Tools

Testing one PC is hassle enough; if you've got an office full of them, you need a Y2K diagnostic that you can install and/or run across a network. The networkability of these tools varies. In some cases, you have to visit each PC and install a utility, which sends test results back to a server-based reporting program. With others, you can install and run tests on networked PCs from a single workstation. Just remember that most of these enterprise tools only work on traditional LANs, not

Centennial 2000 1.00d (Tally Systems, list price: $76 per seat/node, can test for a range of Y2K problems in networked PCs. You can test RTC and BIOS functions, get a list of suspect applications, and check common data files down to the field/cell level for date and date-dependency problems. Leap year and Windows short-date tests are part of the mix. The report module lets you review and open suspect files with a few clicks. Centennial 2000 is a worthy, but pricey, candidate for your enterprise Y2K audits.

ClickNet Y2K v. 5 (Pinpoint Soft ware, list price: $24 to $30 per seat/ node, lets you check networked PCs and servers running Windows 95, 98, or NT across an NT, Netware, or OS/2 network. Along with basic BIOS and RTC tests, you get solid evaluation of software Y2K compliance. Add VeriDate (Pinpoint Software, list price: $12 to $15 per seat/node, and you get very comprehensive analysis of spreadsheet and database files, down to the cell/field level, and some useful advice. Double-click a flagged item, and the associated application runs and takes you to the
specific cell or field for corrective action. This is one of the easiest enterprise-based tools to install and use.

Enterprise Shaman 3.1 (Shaman Corporation, list price: $25,000 per server, $25,000 for the minimum 500-user pack, is top dog in Y2K assessment, but for $50,000, it should be. The package combines Y2K hardware
assessment with software auditing, online reference, and patch file updating. Granted, I didn't have a big enough LAN to really show off this product, but I was impressed by the auditing and installation options. A system administrator can install the necessary utilities on PCs over the network, run tests, and have the results automatically reported back to the server. The server software automatically links to Shaman's server and collects the latest information on applications' Y2K compliance and available Y2K patches.

Shaman reports provide both summary and detailed information on Y2K and related problems by application, and it notes if an update is available. If a program can be patched, Shaman can e-mail users on the network to get an update, or it will actually install the patch for users over the network. How ever, Shaman doesn't show you which fields, cells, or macros in data files have date problems. Enterprise Shaman is rather pricey and a bit much for anything less than a 500-user network,
but it covers most of the bases and makes the update and remediation process much simpler.

GASP 4.2 (Attest Software, free down loadable demo, list price: $10 to $48 per seat,, for Windows 3.x, 95, and NT, consists of three components: GASP Audit surveys more than 12,000 applications and checks Y2K compliance; GASP Net allows GASP Audit data to be gathered over a network; and GASP Report lets you view the results of the Y2K and software audits. Auditing can be performed over a LAN or PC-by-PC with a floppy disk. The results of walk-around tests can be imported into the networked-based GASP Report. The reporting tool gives you significant details about audited
hardware, year 2000 compliance, installed applications, and their year 2000 readiness based on a reference database that Attest maintains and frequently updates. In short, GASP is a comprehensive hardware, software, and Y2K assessment tool for networks.

WRQ Express 2000 v. 4 (WRQ, list price: $49.50 per seat, 25-seat minimum, is a software inventory and licensing tool for Net Ware and NT networks that just happens to provide some modest Y2K checking--namely, BIOS rollover and leap year tests. The program is strong on management, not on testing. I'd pass.

The Fixes

As noted earlier, there are several ways to make your PC Y2K-compliant. In most cases, if your PC boots up and displays the correct date before, during, and after the 2000 transition, you should be fine. However, you will still have to upgrade or replace programs that don't know what to do with 2000 or that take date information directly from the RTC chip.

The easiest and cheapest fixes are device drivers, memory-resident utilities, or programs that install themselves into the hard disk's master boot record (MBR). The first two approaches essentially patch the BIOS or RTC by correcting the date on the fly. An MBR patch loads into memory before the operating system does, which means it can often work with a variety of operating systems. An MBR patch works transparently, catching any erroneous dates generated by the BIOS or RTC and passing the correct date on to the operating system.

Another solution is to replace the BIOS and/or RTC chips with compliant versions--if you can. Some chips are soldered into the motherboard; others are parts of chipsets that can't be removed; and some chips have no Y2K-compliant replacements. If you can't plug in a new chip, you can get a card with both a Y2K-compliant BIOS and an RTC and then pop it into a free slot. In this section, I'll evaluate all of these solutions.

With operating systems and applications that fail the Y2K test, upgrading to the latest version should nip the Y2K bug in the bud. But even giants like Microsoft make mistakes. Before you upgrade, get Y2K guarantees in writing--or, if nothing else, make sure the upgrade to the upgrade is free.

ACCUTE-DATE Year 2000 Clock Fix 1.01 (ACCUTE Year 2000 Solutions, list price: $39.95, is a BIOS and RTC date correction utility for Windows 3.x, 95, and 98 systems. The company offers a 30-day, money-back trial.

BIOS Test & Fix 2.1.0 (Viasoft, free download,, as the name implies, tests your RTC and BIOS for Y2K compliance, then installs a memory-resident program to correct the date whenever anything asks the BIOS or RTC for the date. This program continuously monitors date requests, right down to the clock tick, but this should only be necessary in those rare instances when the BIOS is completely confused about significant dates beyond 2000.

Clock Corrector 1.3 (Pleion Systems, list price: $29.95, is a master boot record-based BIOS patch. Like
Y2000 Pro, which it is a licensed distribution of, Clock Corrector works on NT, Unix, and OS/2 systems. Version 1.3 had problems on my old 486, and I couldn't verify whether the fix worked. (It did on other systems.) This is reportedly a problem on some older Compaq and DEC/ Tandy systems. Version 1.5 corrects this situation and allows a PC to pass BIOS and RTC rollover tests.

Dallas Semiconductor Clock Chip Replacement (Resource800, list price: $12.95 to 29.95,, a Y2K-compliant clock module, is the ideal solution--if your motherboard contains a Dallas, Odin, or Benchmarq clock module in a plug-in socket. Unfortunately, this solution only works in a few motherboards.

Millennium/Pro (Unicore Software, list price: $69.95,, like other BIOS extension cards, is an ISA board
that replaces your PC's ancient BIOS and RTC functions. The card passed all of my Y2K tests, except the ones specific to the RTC chip that such BIOS replacements can't address.

Rosenthal Year 2000 Fix 1.0 (Rosenthal Engineering, free download, is a little patch program, part of the demo version of the Rosenthal Utilities, that tests the Y2K talents of your PC's RTC and, if need be, supplies the correct century date every time you boot up. The program, which is not a TSR (nor does it stick itself in your master boot record), is loaded and run once from AUTOEXEC.BAT.

Tardis 4.0 and K9 (H.C. Mingham-Smith, shareware price: $20, are not RTC or BIOS fixes, but rather, they are utilities that set your PC's operating system (Windows 3.1, 95, or NT) to an accurate time standard. Tardis can read time from a variety of different sources (such as a network server) and ensure that all the PCs on the same intranet stick to it. K9 simply monitors the network for time server broadcasts and sets your PC's clock accordingly. If you are a fanatic about accurate time, these tools are for you.

Y2000 Pro Card (BlueSky Software, list price: $30,, like AMI's offering, gives your PC an updated BIOS and RTC, and sets up video and disk drive BIOS functions. This ISA card likewise passed the same tests, except the very specific RTC chip tests.

The Y2000 Pro Software (BlueSky Software, list price: $15 installs itself into your
hard disk's master boot record and works with NT, Unix, and OS/2 systems. Version 1.2 has problems with older Compaq and DEC/Tandy systems, but version 1.5 worked well with every system I tried it on. Using 1.5, my test systems passed BIOS, RTC, and operating systemölevel tests under DOS and Windows 95 and Windows 98.

Year 2000 BIOS Enabler v. 1.2 (American Megatrends, list price: $74.95, is a BIOS extension on an ISA plug-in card that provides updated BIOS/ RTC functions to your PC. The card passed all of my Y2K tests, except very specific RTC chip tests that BIOS replacements can't address.

Year2000.Com 2.32c (RighTime Clock Co., free download, is a demo of the retail Y2KPCPro package. It provides a BIOS/ RTC fix in the form of a memory-resident program.

Solution or Snake Oil?

After living with dozens of Y2K diagnostic and fix-it products for weeks, a couple of winners quickly emerged. For testing your PC's hardware, software, and data, OnTrack Y2K Advisor and Norton 2000 are the best duo I've found. They're easy to use, provide detailed reports, cover everything from real time clock quibbles to database date disasters. Oh yes, they're affordable, too.

For Y2K fixes, my first choice is installing a new RTC chip. But that may not be an option for you. My next choice would be a BIOS extension card. They're pricey and consume a precious I/O slot, but they do the job. Finally, I'd turn to a utility, and the slam-dunk winner here is Rosenthal's Year 2000 Fix. You also get some great general Windows utilities, too. For heavy-duty file checking, Norton 2000 is a solid choice for those with a handful of desktop PCs. But for industrial-strength enterprise audits, you'll need ClickNet or Centennial 2000.

Whatever Y2K solutions you pick, get them soon. Your office PCs and network are the probably the backbone of your business. If you share data externally with suppliers or customers, you definitely need to make sure every link in the chain remains unbroken.

In short, get proactive. Don't rely on your system and software providers to clue you in to potential Y2K problems. Test everything. Contact your vendors and find out what's compliant and what isn't. If they waffle, get upgrade guarantees, in writing.

© 1999 Jim Aspinwall. All rights reserved.

Jim Aspinwall writes the Windows Advisor column for Computer Currents. He's also the author of IRQ, DMA & I/O and co-author of The PC User's Sur vi val Guide and Troubleshooting Your PC (all from Henry Holt/ MIS: Press).

Where Microsoft Stands

Microsoft is finally starting to "get" Y2K. Perhaps all the big talk they spread around Washington, D.C., about preparing the world for Y2K hit home in a big way. Either that or they don't want to waste millions of dollars explaining why they aren't Y2K-compliant to the Department of Justice.

Whatever the reason, Microsoft has gotten busy, revealing bugs, releasing fixes, and publishing a great deal of helpful information. (Check out the Microsoft Year 2000 Readiness Dis closure & Resource Center site at But a Web site doesn't get them (or us) off the hook. There are still a lot of applications to verify, fixes to apply, and data to check.

Microsoft lists five categories of Y2K compliance for its products:

Some notable highlights from the Microsoft stable follow.

Windows 95 requires updates to several files. See for details about the files that need to be updated.

To be compliant, Windows 98 must be patched with the Windows 98 Year 2000 update, via Windows' Update Manager service. Even when patched, both Windows 95 and 98 have some remaining glitches. You will have to manually change the Short Date style in the Regional Settings control panel. Simply click the Short date style drop-down menu and select MM/DD/ YYYY instead of the default MM/DD/YY.

Windows NT 4.0 (once you've installed Service Pack 3 and Service Pack 4, which includes a Y2K fix) is considered compliant with minor issues. The minor issues include problems with User Manager and User Manager for Domains, which will not accept February 29, 2000, as a valid date to expire an account. The Date/Time control panel applet date display might jump ahead one more day than expected (the system date is correct, but the displayed date is wrong). And the date entry fields in the Start* Find dialog box will display non-numeric data if the year is later than 1999.

Windows Exchange Server 5.5 with Service Pack 2 is compliant. Service Pack 2 is at ftp://ftp. microsoft. com/ bussys/exchange/ exchange-public/ fixes/ Eng/ Exchg5.5/SP2/. Some Exchange components store dates in two digits. A date that has a year between 50 and 99 is interpreted as 1950 to 1999, and years between 00 and 49 are interpreted as 2000 to 2049.

As for other enterprise applications, Microsoft claims that BackOffice Server 4.0 is compliant with minor issues. Systems Management Server 1.2 with Service Pack 3, Site Server 3.0, SQL Server 7.0, and Proxy Server 2.0 are compliant. SQL Server 6.5 English is compliant, but other languages are compliant with minor issues.

One notable Y2K bug found in the ubiquitous Microsoft development library file, MSVCRT.DLL, will give some Windows applications grief on April 1, 2001. This DLL provides many functions, including a routine that lets applications figure out when daylight-saving time starts. The routine can't grasp that in 2001, daylight-saving time falls on April 1, a Sunday. Is it any coincidence that this is also April Fools' Day? As a result, daylight-saving time is delayed by a week, and your
applications are off by an hour. This could spell trouble for scheduling and date stamping applications running that week.

Microsoft is considering a fix, and when and how to release it. Unfortunately, the file is distributed with several different applications and not just Microsoft's. You could have several different versions on your hard drive, and they will all have to be replaced with a fixed version. I can only hope that a Y2K-compliant MSVCRT.DLL won't cause other things to break, as did the new version of WININET.DLL when Internet Explorer 4 was released.

--J. A.

The Century Date Shuffle

Back in the dark ages, when the words IBM and PC were synonymous, IBM made an ill-fated decision about how the PC would handle dates. Instead of creating an RTC that could track centuries (in addition to handling seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years), it palmed this job off to the BIOS. The BIOS would simply take the year information (such as 99) from the RTC, tack on the century prefix (such as 19), and store this information in a sliver of CMOS RAM, where it could be accessed by the operating system.

And so it is today, with PCs depending on the BIOS for century data instead of a live, running clock. This silly practice could have been changed by Intel years ago, especially once it started supplying the world with motherboard chipsets. Butinstead, Intel has perpetuated the problem. Even its latest chipsets (such as the 82371xx I/O chip) use built-in clocks thatcan't keep track of the century. Intel's reason? Redesigning the chip could require significant BIOS changes and causeincompatibilities with some applications.

Granted, a truly all-inclusive RTC would mean some BIOS redesign--you wouldn't want the BIOS placing its century information into CMOS RAM. But since we already have to upgrade or patch existing BIOS chips so they supply the correct century, how hard would it be to tell the BIOS to let the RTC handle the job?

There's certainly no technical reason why an RTC chip can't maintain and update the century information by itself. Dallas Semiconductor has an entire product line of compatible RTC chips designed to replace its original DS1287 clock chip, used in 286, 386, and 486 PCs before the advent of highly integrated chipsets. These new RTC chips handle four-digit century data just fine, but apparently only AMI and Tyan use the chips in their motherboards.

Ah, but what of the compatibility bugaboo? It's a nonissue. Windows 95 and 98 get the time from the BIOS, which is initially supplied by the RTC. Windows NT gets the time directly from the RTC and corrects the century date on its own. BIOS chips and NT could just as easily fetch century information from the RTC--if it was available. Applications could do this, too.

In short, there's no real technical or even financial reason for not having a self-updating clock chip that understands the difference between 1900 and 2000, or even 9000. When you consider how much money businesses around the world are spending to fix the Y2K bug, such a little change could save lots of money the next time around--say, before the year 2038 bug hits us. As the saying goes, time is money.

--J. A.

Is Your ISP Y2K-Compliant?

This is a good question. Every ISP uses different software and hardware for accepting dial-up and dedicated calls, authenticating user log-ins, routing traffic to servers, hosting Web pages, handling e-mail, providing e-commerce services, and even processing your monthly bill. It's a lot of stuff to figure out, and only your ISP (supposedly) knows for sure. Make sure you ask, especially if you're planning to host a commerce site. If the ISP is providing the actual commerce software and handling any transaction processing, ask where they stand regarding Y2K.

Don't expect crystal-clear answers. In my brief, informal survey, the answer I most often encountered was, "We're working on it." For example, EarthLink states, "We are still assessing the readiness of the third-party software products ... . The inventory we are currently engaged in will determine to a large degree which steps should be taken moving forward." But there's no report on how compliant the ISP is. UUNET, a key Internet backbone provider, is similarly slippery. The company has appointed a senior project manager responsible for UUNET's year 2000 compliance initiative, and the
company is evaluating vendors who have supplied UUNET with hardware and software. That's it. I couldn't find a Y2K compliance statement on Pac Bell Internet's Web site. AT&T WorldNet, on the other hand, has had an aggressive compliance program since 1996 and even posts a Y2K score card at

Should you start hyperventilating? No. I believe most network connection and routing equipment will be fully functional in the next century. I'm mostly concerned that billing and log-on authorization may be glitchy.

As far as network equipment is concerned, passive devices such as hubs, modems, ISDN routers, network interface cards, and the like will not be affected by 2000. Certain complex devices, such as routers and their internal operating systems (like Cisco IOS before version 11.0), could be affected.

The message to ISPs, businesses, and telecommuters is clear: Check your net work and dial-in access systems now, and upgrade them sooner, not later.

--J. A.

Can Update Services Help?

Y2K fixes are out there, but many users don't get them. Why? Because they don't know the patches are available, where they are, or how to install them. Enter free and third-party up date services, which can scan your hard disk, figure out which software needs updating, and offer to download and install updates for you. If you've used Windows 98's Update Manager, you've seen this kind of service in action.

Update services could make the Y2K problem far less painful, but what they can provide depends entirely on what vendors are willing to share over the Internet. Therein lies part of the problem.

First, vendors prefer to distribute their updates to registered users only. Update services don't handle registrations, and there's no universal way to determine if someone is a legitimate registered owner of a product. To do so, vendors would have to reveal how to access the registration information in their products and open up their registration databases for verification. That ain't likely.

Second, most users, legitimate or not, would feel uneasy about a service probing their hard disk for software registration data and sending it willy-nilly over the Internet. Unless an update or patch is free and without encumbrances, users won't go for it.

One partial answer are the one-click update functions built into programs like Norton AntiVirus and Windows 98 thatcommunicate with a specific vendor, find the right patch, download it, and install it. But even then, you don't know what information these services could gather from your system and with whom they might share it.

The bottom line is, don't depend on an update service, such as Norton Web Services (incorporating TuneUpdate, at try.nortonweb. com), Drivers Head Quarters (, or Manageable/ Catch-Up (, to tell you if you need a patch or upgrade to survive 2000. All they can do is post the known fixes willingly made available by other vendors. The second bottom line is, check with your software and hardware vendors directly.

--J. A.

The Other Y2K Bug

Y2K gets all the press, but another little date-related glitch has been relegated to the shadows. It's called the Crouch-Echlin effect, and it's a problem that might strike come midnight of any day in any year.

Crouch-Echlin happens, theoretically, when the operating system and the BIOS try to extract information from the PC's real-time chip at the same time--at midnight on any day--just when the chip is changing the date. The two actions collide and the BIOS and/or operating system get skewed data. The result? Your PC may suddenly think it's a couple of hours earlier or later than it really is. This problem supposedly only occurs with nonbuffered RTC chips, which are used in most PCs.

If you surf over to for a more detailed explanation, you'll find that even the namesakes of this effect admit that this problem is minor and happens rarely. But they also note that it could corrupt your PC's CMOS Setup data.

Why does C-E only happen at midnight? At midnight, the RTC updates seconds, minutes, hours, and date information. This might tie up the RTC chip just a wee bit longer than expected, resulting in unstable data being supplied to the BIOS or operating system.

Intel hasn't been able to reproduce the effect, but that doesn't mean that Crouch and Echlin are wrong. Almost anything is possible when two devices try to access the same memory or register at the same time. Microsoft admits to a similar issue if Windows 98 is rebooted precisely at midnight.

So what's the solution? You could replace your PC's old RTC chip with a new, buffered version--assuming the old chip can even be removed. A simpler solution is to back up your CMOS settings with a tool like Norton Rescue and make sure your PC isn't running at midnight.

--J. A