By Chris Anglim, Librarian, University of St. Thomas
Along with death and taxes, the Y2K problem is inescapable. Y2K is a two-digit computer malfunction that could affect every aspect of modern life.|
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, computer programmers were searching for ways to condense information to conserve expensive memory. One technique they used was chopping off the "19" from the year, so "1965" became "65." It seemed a great solution and freed memory for more important tasks. These programmers knew their solution would not work when the year 2000 rolled over. Computers would read "00" as the year "1900," shutting them down; but the programmers believed that technology was evolving so quickly, their codes would be replaced by better methods.
Unfortunately, the programmers did not account for human nature. Instead of replacing code, users simply built onto code since it worked fine, eventually creating vast systems enveloping a doomed core of code. The code is in the center of COBOL, the business and industry computer language.
One caveat is that Y2K will arrive earlier than January 1, 2000. Programmers use specific strings of numbers to indicate the stopping point and commands. For example, they use 9/9/99 as an end-of- file command or infinity. When computers encounter the date September 9, 1999, they may freeze. The same principle applies to April 9, 1999, which is the 99th day of the 99th year. As a result, any forecasting system might fail; some have failed already in the financial industry.
The year 2000 also is an atypical leap year. Leap years are evenly divisible by four or by 400, but not by 100. Since 1998 is a leap year, the next one isn't calculated to occur until 2002. Systems using Julian dates will not recognize December 31, 2000, the 366th day of the year since it is an atypical leap year.
If the Y2K problem had affected only mainframes, as many originally thought, programmers easily would have remedied the difficulty. Unfortunately, all PCs were affected, but not Macintoshes, which use four-digit years. Thus, many companies and institutions are Y2K compliant by default.
Law libraries already should be working with their Information Technology (IT) departments to conduct a thorough assessment of the institution's present computing resources and Y2K compliance status. A Y2K assessment begins with inventories of PC and network hardware, of every custom application, and of every external data communications link. With accurate lists in hand, the institution can recognize the extent of its Y2K problem.
Second, ask hardware and software vendors about their Y2K compliance. Also, inquire about third party firm systems with whom your library connects on a regular basis. Request an updated written statement of every product s Y2K compliance - specifying exact models, versions, and releases.
Typically, a three-part program is effective to insure Y2K compliance: reports, facilitation, and audits. The first step of reporting consists of monthly reports of Y2K progress. Each department of the university will appoint a department liaison in charge of Y2K problems; the liaison will report to the IT department.
The second step of facilitation involves creating guidelines for determining which equipment needs to be tested. The guidelines also help to show "due diligence" later, if needed, while also avoiding unnecessary checking of systems. Possibly the most important step in a Y2K compliance program is the third, known as the component audit. This process insures that the reports match reality.
Two highly regarded utilities for testing a PC's Y2K compliance are "Norton 2000 BIOS Test/Fix for Windows 95 and Windows98 Operating Systems," and "Yes2K Version 2.04 for Windows 3.1 Operating Systems." Most versions of BIOS made since 1995, and nearly all since 1997, will handle the Y2K transition correctly. The National Standards Testing Lab (NSTL), a private testing facility, offers a free utility called "YMark2000," which you may download from http://www.nstl.com/html/nstl_y2k.html.
Commercial software that has been verified as Y2K compliant must be run on Y2K compliant hardware with a Y2K compliant operating system in order to use the correct system date. Check the manufacturers web page for information on Y2K compliance of a particular product.
Some types of software have a high rate of Y2K problems, including accounting, spreadsheet, database, utility, and operating software packages. Other types of software have a high rate of Y2K compliance, including word processing, graphics, games, backup, and zip/unzip.
The computer industry typically assigns compliance ratings with the following tags: