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Response from an NGO Techie on Y2K


May 14, 1999
Terry Cottam

Here's a response I got from "Richard," the techie of a local NGO contact (Arthur). There's no time like the present to consider the social implications of thousands of NGOs losing their files, their email and ability to manage their office, never mind their community campaigns and programs. Are they all ready to go "manual"? Do this mean you? I run a pentium, with Win95, which I want to convert to Linux. A lot of people with 386s and 486s are doing this. From what Richard says, they are all advised to first get Pentiums. What about Macs? Is all software written for Macs y2k-compliant?

As part of our Y2K Centretown Pilot Project, I think we will post all agencies and businesses in our community on our website, along with their y2k preparedness status, and distribute this page all over the community. Those who don't know or won't say, will be shown as such. Those that do and have been verified will get our seal of approval :-)

Richard concludes, "Bottom line is: I can't realize any profit dealing with NGO's and Y2K. In fact, it would probably cost me money." This underscores that we need a cooperative effort starting immediately. It is also fair to request government compensation at least equal to what it's spending on business, and probably a good deal more considering that NGOs can afford such tech help even less. Their social programs are needed now more than ever to avoid widespread social chaos which may be triggered by y2k disruptions.

Sorry about crossposting, but I think this is a vital concern that is easily overlooked. Please pass this on to other lists frequented by NGOs.

Best wishes,

Terry Cottam,, (613) 236-6433

* Centretown Contact, y2k Regional Preparedness Group

* Ottawa-Carleton Community Preparedness website:

---- Thanks for forwarding the Y2K article. It's quite interesting... and somewhat disturbing. First, here's what I've learned (about Y2K issues) from testing several low-end (pre-pentium) computers:

Most older machines that I tested fail the Y2K tests in pretty well all areas, but significantly in the system BIOS. This means that it's an actual hardware-related problem associated with the old motherboard installed in the individual machine. If you're running a 286, you can expect to toss it into the garbage at the end of the year. 386 machines are in the same boat unless the user is willing to invest some $$ to upgrade the BIOS somehow, however a 386 computer is worth about $20 (minus the monitor) and the bios upgrade may cost 10 times what the computer is worth (if the upgrade is possible at all). 486 machines fail 99% of the time as well, however many (maybe most) of them can be upgraded to handle part of their Y2K issues with a software utility fix applied by your friendly computer technician. The problem is that the software-fix utilities cost a fair amount of money. The technician has to invest significant $$ in the software to be able to service the machines, and this will only address part of the problem. Another issue is that the individual programs installed on the machines will likely need individual 'fixes' from the program's vendor. With older programs, this will be extremely difficult.

An example of this is our 'WordPerfect 6.1' software. Our Wordperfect 6.1 may not work properly on 1/1/2000. Our version was produced many years ago by Novell (91'-94') in Utah. As you know, we can't contact Novell for a 'fix' because WordPerfect is now part of a suite of products manufactured by Corel, and our old version 6.1 hasn't been supported in 5 years. I don't know if the program will work in January 2000 - it may or may not. If it doesn't, we can't fix it. All we could do is purchase the '2000 compliant' suite from Corel if we want to continue to use the WordPerfect format. NOTE: if the WP6.1 program does fail on 1/1/2000, then we risk 'losing' all documents stored in WordPerfect format. I'm going to convert and store a copy of all of my important WP documents in another format (like RTF) - just in case. I'd suggest that you do the same, unless you plan on purchasing the 'Corel WordPerfect Suite' before December 99.

Many programs are in the same boat - that's why the Feds are after everyone to address this ASAP - it will be too late when the clock ticks over.

Another example is Steve's machine. The machine itself is 'old'. It fails the Y2k tests miserably on all fronts. I can fix his Windows 95 operating system, but I can't fix his actual machine because the motherboard and system BIOS are antiquated (I installed a home-made DOS program that may or may not help him out, but I don't know if it will work).

This has been what's happening with his friggin' CD-ROM drive. His machine won't even 'see' the new drive when I install it. This means that I have to repeatedly pull it apart and fiddle with the cables, and fiddle with the system BIOS etc. etc. This translates into hours and hours of work. I asked for advice from my technician friend over at Compaq - he had an old 486 machine like Steve's and it took him 3 days to get a CD-ROM into it. On a reasonably current machine, it takes about 15 minutes to install the drive.

Bottom line is: I can't realize any profit dealing with NGO's and Y2K. In fact, it would probably cost me money. Just thought I'd let you know what we're dealing with, given the hardware and software that we're running currently. I'm not entirely sure about Victor in terms of Y2k. I'll have a look at him and run some tests next time I'm over OK? Stay cool Arthur