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ISSUE 484: The high tech office- Feb 2 1999

ALAN ZISMAN

Most computer users can avoid the ill effects Y2K

Okay, we've been writing about the infamous Y2K thing for three columns now. To recap, what we've seen is that on the hardware and operating system level, for most personal computer users the Year 2000 issue is a relatively minor one.

Let's be perfectly clear -- your computer will not stop operating on 01/01/00. It may get confused about the date, which may or may not be important to you. In many cases, you can upgrade the system BIOS and there are (relatively minor) patches for Windows 95, 98 and NT. Even with non-upgradeable systems, free software patches from companies such as Symantec can allow most older systems to keep track of the date properly.

But what you really need to care about are your applications and data. No, not your word processor. But most of us have at least some files where dates are important. If you're a business, there's payroll, accounts receivable and more. Even many home users are keeping their financial records in a program such as Quicken or Microsoft Money, which keep chequebook-like records of deposits and withdrawals.

And think of what would happen to a sequential record of money in and out if your January 2000 information appears prior to any of the 19__ transactions.

Spreadsheets, databases and accounting programs of all kinds are most at risk for these sorts of problems. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to ferret out which programs and data files will cause problems. You may think that any file that lists dates with two-digit years won't work, but that's not always the case. In some cases, programs may display information that way, but actually store dates internally with all four digits. Unfortunately, the reverse can sometimes be true as well.

I keep track of my finances using an old (1992) version of Microsoft Money. Even though I could easily update it to a newer version, I haven't bothered -- this one is small, simple and does the little I need. It displays a chequebook register, with nice, four-digit years such as 01/16/1999.

I performed a simple test -- I set my computer's clock forward a year, opened the program, and entered a trial deposit of $1,000. The program correctly added it after the other transactions, so it looks like I can keep on using it past the new year.

If you have relatively few date-sensitive applications and files, you may want to check each manually. (Don't forget to remove the "test" transaction and reset the date if you try this test!)

You should also go to the Internet and check whether your software's manufacturers admit to any Y2K issues and whether they've issued any patches for your applications. (Don't be surprised if patches to fix problems have only been issued for the latest version of the application -- a less than subtle prod to force you to upgrade older versions.) The Microsoft Web site (www.microsoft.com/y2k) will show you details on Y2K compliance of the range of that company's products.

And Mac owners are not home free, as they are on the hardware and operating system issues. Mac application developers can be as guilty of shortsighted programming as PC developers.

But life may be too short -- or the sheer number of computers, products, or datafiles that you manage may be too long -- to manually check each. What programmers have created, cannot programmers fix?

PC-owners may want to take a look at Symantec's Norton 2000. It's one of quite a few products on the market that can be used to check, and in some cases patch, PC hardware. Norton 2000 is one of only a few that checks out spreadsheet and database datafiles, and reports on potential problems. After analyzing the data on your computer's drives, it produces both a summary of problem files and a detailed report.

It's available in a retail edition for about $75, and a corporate edition priced per network node.

Mac users can find similar functions from the shareware Y2K Software Audit from Terrace, B.C.-based Pedagoguery Software (www.peda.
com
), a small company that also offers a PC version of the product. The downloadable version is limited to checking the first 1,000 files it finds on your drives, but the full version is a reasonable US$38.

With these precautions, the world around you may collapse at the end of the year (though I doubt it!), but your computer and your data should come through just fine. *



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan