How To Zap Those Year 2000 Bugs

Taking precautions now will save you big headaches later

Time marches on, and before you know it, the Year 2000, with its potential problems, will be a reality. Here are some things you can do to ensure that your business and computers will be ready for the new millennium.

In general, most newer Pentium systems should work in 2000, while many older Pentium systems, along with 486, 386, and 286-based systems, probably won't. But before you run any computer-related tests, be sure that you back up the applications and data on your system's hard drives. There is a remote chance of mishaps when you are performing date-related tests--particularly if you are running specialized software that relies on the date as a way of verifying its license or maintaining its audit trails. In that case, contact the software's publisher for suggestions before proceeding.


The Real-Time Clock is a device in your computer that tracks time. BIOS (Basic Input Output System) is internal system software that controls computer hardware and determines the compatibility of your system. If your system's time-keeping clock (along with the BIOS) can't make the rollover to 2000, all of your computer's functions that relate to dates will be thrown off. To test your PC's real-time clock and BIOS, you can try the following:

1. Back up your PC.

2. Bring up your system's DOS prompt (in Windows 95 or 98, you can click on Start, Programs, and then MS-DOS prompt, or press F8 as your system is booting to start your sYstem in Safe Mode, and then tell your computer to present aDOS prompt).

3. Type "Date" and press Enter. This brings up the date function in DOS.

4. Change the date to 12-31-1999 and press ENTER to change your computer's date to December 31, 1999.

5. Type "Time" and press ENTER.

6. Change the time to 11:58:00 p.m.

7. Shut down your computer.

8. Wait a few minutes and then turn your computer back on.

9. Once again, bring up your system's DOS prompt, type "Date" and press ENTER. If the function displays a current date of 01-01-2000, your system's real-time clock will work in 2000. If the date displays as 01-01-1980, 01-01-1900, or something else, your system won't work properly in 2000. In that case, you'll need to check with the manufacturer of your system and/or motherboard to see if you can upgrade the BIOS.

10. Repeat steps 2 through 6 to reset your system back to the correct (current) time.


The operating system is a specialized software program that allows a computer to perform basic tasks with files, disks, and memory, and accepts input from the mouse and keyboard. It's the core program that defines how your computer works and what programs it can run. Popular operating systems include Windows 3.x, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, OS/2, and UNIX. To test your computer's operating system, you can try the following, but be sure to check the Y2K compliance data all OS makers have on their Web sites:

1. Back up your PC.

2. Follow steps 2 through 8 of "Check your PC's real-time clock and BIOS" (above).

3. Check the date in your computer's operating system. If the date function in your operating system displays the year 2000, it should work in 2000. To verify this in Windows 95 or 98, you can click Start, Settings, and then Control Panel, and then double-click the Date/Time icon. If, on the other hand, the date displays 01-01-1980, 01-01-1900, or something else, your system won't work in the year 2000, and you should consider upgrading to the latest version of your operating system that will. Check with the publisher of your operating system.

4. Repeat steps 2 through 6 in "Check your PC's real-time clock and BIOS" to reset your system back to the correct (current) time.


Nearly all commercial PC programs store dates after 1999 correctly, though some old DOS ones don't. A bigger issue is how they interpret years entered with two digits. Will a pensioner's birthyear of '28 be assigned correctly to this century or to the next? How about his Treasury bond, maturing in '28--that is, 2028? Almost all applications use the same strategy for dealing with this problem: A two-digit year that is less than some set number (usually 20 or 30) is assumed to be in the 21st century, anything higher to the 20th. Unfortunately, different programs use different rules. You can check how your programs handle two-digit years by creating fake entries and seeing how they're interpreted.

But for the last word on date handling, check software publishers' Web sites. Some key addresses: Microsoft,; Intuit, com/support/year2000.html. Peachtree Software unfortunately offers no information on its Web site on the Y2K compliance.


Even if your software works in the year 2000, there's no guarantee that your data will work. Take a look at your current spreadsheets and databases to see if the date fields are using four digits to represent a year. If they represent a year with only two numbers, you will want to modify them so they will register 2000.


Contact your bank to ensure its computers will be modified and tested for year 2000 compliance. Find out if your bank plans to accomplish this within the year 1998, so it will have more time to find and repair any potential problems.


Contact your credit-card-issuing companies to ensure that they have reprogrammed and tested their systems for the year 2000. If you already carry or receive a credit card with an expiration date of 2000 or beyond, you can probably assume that the credit-card company has dealt with the year 2000 issue, but it never hurts to verify it by calling and, ideally, getting it in writing.


Talk with your insurance company to be sure that they are ready for the year 2000. If possible, see if you can get any assurances in writing. In some states, you may be able to get some of this information through your state's insurance department.


Contact all of your vendors to see that their ordering and other systems will work in 2000. If possible, get their compliance in writing, and if it can be arranged, have the company provide you with test results and have its staffers work with you to process a test order that rolls over into 2000.


Get in touch with all of the companies that provide services to your business--including utilities (water, gas, electricity, etc.), as well as deliveries, repairs, janitorial, and more. Since this can encompass a lot of companies, you may want to check first with the ones that are most crucial to the operation of your business. If possible, get their compliance in writing, and ask to see test results. If applicable, see if you can arrange with the company to process a test order or invoice for the year 2000.

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