Year 2000 Bug

Year 2000 Bug Less than one year until the year 2000, two seemingly small digits may turn January 1, 2000 from a worldwide celebration into a universal nightmare. With computers mistaking the year 2000 for 1900, virtually all businesses that use dates will be affected. Not only will the companies be affected, but also they are paying millions upon millions of dollars in order for computers to recognize the difference between the years 2000 and 1900. The year 2000 computer bug is a huge problem that our world must face. In order to explain how to solve the “millennium bug”, it is a good idea to be informed about exactly what the year 2000 problem is.

The year 2000 industry expert, Peter de Jager, described the problem quite well. “We programmed computers to store the date in the following format: dd/mm/yy. This only allows 2 digits for the year. January 1, 2000 would be stored as 01/01/00. But the computer will interpret this as January 1, 1900- not 2000” (de Jager 1997).

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The ’19’ is “hard-coded” into computer hardware and software. Since there are only 2 physical spaces for the year in this date format, after ’99’, the only logical choice is to reset the number to ’00’. The year 2000 problem is unlike any other problem in modern history for several reasons. Many computer professionals point out some of the most important ones. Time is running out- the Year 2000 is inevitable! The problem will occur simultaneously worldwide, time zones withstanding.

It affects all languages and platforms, hardware & software. The demand for solutions will exceed the supply. “It is too big and too overwhelming even for [Bill Gates and] Microsoft” (Widder 1997). Separate, any one of these points makes Y2K, a common abbreviation for the year 2000 problem, an addition to the obstacle. Combined, they form what seems more like a hideous monster than an insignificant bug.

The impact of Y2K on society is enormous, bringing the largest companies in the world to their knees, pleading for a fix at nearly any cost. “The modern world has come to depend on information as much as it has on electricity and running water. Fixing the problem is difficult because there are [less than] two years left to correct 40 years of behavior” (de Jager 1997). “Alan Greenspan has warned that being 99 percent ready isn’t enough” (Widder 1997). “Chief Economist Edward Yardeni has said that the chances for a worldwide recession to occur because of Y2K are at 40%” (Widder 1997). Senator Bob Benett (Republican, Utah) made a good analogy about the potential of the problem.

“In the 1970’s, oil was the energy that ran our world economy. Today it runs on the energy of information.” He later said, “To cripple the technological flow of information throughout the world is to bring it to a virtual standstill” (Widder 1997). The potential of the problem in everyday life is alarming. Imagine making a loan payment in 1999 for a bill that is due in 2000. The companys computers could interpret the ’00’ as 1900 and you would then be charged with 99 years of late fees (Moffitt & Sandler 1997). If the year 2000 problem isn’t solved, there could be “no air traffic, traffic lights, no lights in your company, companies could not produce goods, no goods delivered to the stores, stores could not send you bills, you could not send bills to anyone else.

Business [could] come to a halt” (de Jager 1997). The costs of fixing Y2K are staggering. The Gartner Group estimates that costs per line of code to be between $1.50 and $2.00 (Conner 1). It is not uncommon for a single company to have 100,000,000 lines of code (de Jager 1997). Capers Jones, an expert who has studied software costs for over ten years, estimates total worldwide costs to be $1,635,000,000,000 (One-trillion, 635 billion dollars) (Jones 1997).

To put this number into perspective, if five people were to spend $100 for every second of every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it would take them about 100 years to finish the task! The year 2000 problem is not only limited to what happens with computers between December 31, 1999 and January 1, 2000. There are several other important dates that are a factor. Last year was considered the last point where a large company could start fixing the problem with any hopes to finish before the deadline. Also, all fixes should be done by January 1, 1999. There are two major reasons for having the fixes done a year early. The first is that there are many “special dates” during 1999 that mean special things.

For example, September 9, 1999 (09/09/99) has been commonly used as the “expiration date” for references and data that have no expiration date (Reid 1997). The computer required that a date must be entered in, and in many cases, 9/9/99 was it. Also, it has been established that an entire year’s cycle of events should be used to test all of the modifications that have been made to a system. Also, one should be sure to test to see which day of the week is 01/01/00. January 1, 1900 was a Monday, but January 1, 2000 will be a Saturday.

Other possible failure dates: 1/10/2000 (1st 9 character date), 2/29/2000 (Leap day- the year 2000 is a leap year), 10/10/2000 (1st 10 character date), and 12-31-2000 (Day 366 of the year 2000)(GTE 1996). With the millennium “bug” coming closer and closer to destroying the “crops” of the world’s information every day, experts from around the globe have discovered several ways to deal with or “exterminate” this menace. Five major solutions to the problem will now be discussed. The most straightforward approach to solving Y2K is to simply change the 2-digit date fields to 4-digit ones. This is considered to be the only complete solution to the problem, giving businesses a seemingly endless range of dates for the future. This approach also can make it much easier for the company to reformat the display screens with a hard-coded format present (IBM 1998). Unfortunately, expanding the date field from 2 to 4 digits has several downsides to it. The most obvious one is that in order to convert the dates, every program and database that references to date data will have to be modified.

These modifications are mostly manual labor- not an automatic process. Also, this requires display screens to be reformatted manually, as well as increasing record lengths in databases (IBM 1997). Another common method for swatting the millennium bug involves what is termed “date logic”, or “windowing techniques”. This procedure involves having a s …


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