ISSUE 530: The high-tech office- Dec
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 www.symantec.com, 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.
microsoft.com/y2k -- 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 www.peda.com) 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