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ISSUE 530: The high-tech office- Dec 21 1999


Don't freak out over Y2K, but do a last-minute check

Well, it's finally my last column for the year (and depending how we're counting, the decade, the century and the millennium). I'd be failing in my mission if I passed
up this last chance to nag you all about Y2K.

It looks like we'll never know what disasters might have unfolded had the Y2K issue simply happened. Instead, we'll be seeing the results of billions and billions spent by governments and large corporations searching out and working around glitches caused by two-digit dates in software that wasn't designed to be used when the year switches over from '99 to '00.

For those of us without an IT department to take care of the big issues, and without billions and billions to spend, let's take a few minutes to make sure that our data will be safe when the new year rolls around.

Will your computer hardware be able to cope with years starting with a 2? Mac-owners are safe, as are owners of post-Pentium PCs. If you're using a Pentium-class or older PC though, you need to check. There are a number of free utilities to do it for you. I like the freely downloadable version of Symantec's Norton 2000. (Go to, click on USA, not Canada, and then on Norton 2000 to get a copy.) It tests how your hardware responds to the date change and checks the next several leap years (a problem for some
systems) as well. If needed, it can add a patch to the startup files to help your older hardware cope with the new year.

(If you skip this step, your computer will not explode on January 1 -- at worst, the system clock will give the wrong date, but the computer will still work. Saved files will be marked with an incorrect date and some utilities such as virus-checkers will be confused, but it won't be the end of computing as we know it.)

If you're putting this much effort into it, you may as well make sure you have operating system patches for Microsoft operating systems. Again, Mac owners can sneer. Windows owners will find patches for their various versions at www.
-- but, once again, the fixes are relatively trivial. If you don't bother, you probably won't notice.

Think about your important ap-
plications. Do dates matter? A word processor won't care what year it is or how the year is displayed, but anything that sorts lists by dates should be checked out. Go to the Web site for your accounting software, your spreadsheets and your databases and see what is recommended. Recent versions may be fine as is, while there may be downloadable patches for somewhat older versions.

In some cases, you may simply be out of luck. If you're still using that old DOS version of the popular Quicken personal finance program, too bad. It won't be able to deal with next year's dates and, according to Intuit, it's not fixable. Mac applications need to be checked along with PC applications.

And while the hardware clock and operating system patches are relatively trivial, if you rely on software for accounting or invoicing or bill payments, you do need to make sure that you can rely on your software to know what to do -- not just today, but in a couple of weeks.

There is software designed to help you inventory your applications and important documents and see if they will have problems with Y2K-related issues. PC owners may want to look at the full version of Symantec's Norton 2000 (US$50), while both Mac and PC owners can try out the US$38 shareware Y2K Software Audit from Pedagoguery Software (luckily with the more typeable Web address in downtown Terrace. The trial version checks the first 1,000 files it finds -- registration removes that limitation.

I'm assuming that Y2K will pass without major trauma and this will be the last column I'll need to write about the issue. All indications are that the utilities, airlines and such have gotten their systems up to snuff. We may see trickle-down effects later on, as smaller businesses here and abroad find themselves stuck with Y2K-related glitches -- and as a result, don't pay you on time.

But, just in case, it doesn't hurt
to stock up on supplies -- as you should in case of a power outage
or unexpected snowfall. I've got enough champagne stockpiled to see me through any imaginable disaster scenario, so I can wish you all a Happy Y2K. *

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