Year 2000: Fiction, Fantasy, and Fact

The year 2000 is practically around the corner, promising a new era ofgreatness and wonder . . . as long as you don’t own a computer or work with one.  The year 2000 is bringing a Pandora’s Box of gifts to the computer world, andthe latch is slowly coming undone.The year 2000 bug is not really a “bug” or “virus,” but is more a computerindustry mistake.

Many of the PC’s, mainframes, and software out there are notdesigned or programmed to compute a future year ending in double zeros. Thisis going to be a costly “fix” for the industry to absorb. In fact, Mike Elganwho is the editor of Windows Magazine, says ” . . . the problem could costbusinesses a total of $600 billion to remedy.” (p. 1)

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The fallacy thatmainframes were the only machines to be affected was short lived as industryrealized that 60 to 80 million home and small business users doing math oraccounting etc. on Windows 3.1 or older software, are just as susceptible tothis “bug.” Can this be repaired in time? For some, it is already too late. Asystem that is devised to cut an annual federal deficit to 0 by the year 2002 isalready in “hot water.” Data will become erroneous as the numbers “just don’tadd up” anymore. Some PC owners can upgrade their computer’s BIOS (or completeoperating system) and upgrade the OS (operating system) to Windows 95, thiswill set them up for another 99 years. Older software however, may very wellhave to be replaced or at the very least, upgraded.

The year 2000 has become a two-fold problem. One is the inability of thecomputer to adapt to the MM/DD/YY issue, while the second problem is thereluctance to which we seem to be willing to address the impact it will have. Most IS (information system) people are either unconcerned or unprepared.

Let me give you a “short take” on the problem we all are facing. To savestorage space -and perhaps reduce the amount of keystrokes necessary in order toenter the year to date-most IS groups have allocated two digits to represent theyear. For example, “1996” is stored as “96” in data files and “2000” will bestored as “00.” These two-digit dates will be on millions of files used asinput for millions of applications. This two digit date affects datamanipulation, primarily subtractions and comparisons. (Jager, p. 1)

Forinstance, I was born in 1957. If I ask the computer to calculate how old I amtoday, it subtracts 57 from 96 and announces that I’m 39. So far so good. Inthe year 2000 however, the computer will subtract 57 from 00 and say that I am -57 years old. This error will affect any calculation that produces or uses timespans, such as an interest calculation. Banker’s beware!!!Bringing the problem closer to the home-front, let’s examine how the CAPSsystem is going to be affected.

As CAPS is a multifaceted system, I will focuson one area in particular, ISIS. ISIS (Integrated Student Information System)has the ability to admit students, register them, bill them, and maintain anacademic history of each student (grades, transcripts, transfer information,etc.) inside of one system. This student information system has hundreds andhundreds of references to dates within it’s OS. This is a COBOL systemaccessing a ADABAS database. ADABAS is the file and file access method used byISIS to store student records on and retrieve them from. (Shufelt, p.1)

ADABAShas a set of rules for setting up keys to specify which record to access andwhat type of action (read, write, delete) is to be performed. The dates willhave to have centuries appended to them in order to remain correct. Their(CAPS) “fix” is to change the code in the Procedure Division. In other words, if the year inquestion is greater than 30 (>30) then it can be assumed that you are referringto a year in the 20th century and a “19” will be moved to the century field. Ifthe year is less than 30 (<30) then it will move a “20” to the century field.

If absolutely necessary, ISIS will add a field and a superdescriptor index inorder to keep record retrieval in the order that the program code expects. Thecurrent compiler at CAPS will not work beyond the year 2000 and will have to bereplaced. The “temporary fix” (Kludge) just discussed (<30 or >30) will allowISIS to operate until the year 2030, when they hope to have replaced the currentsystem by then.

For those of you with your own home computers, let’s get up close andpersonal. This problem will affect you as well! Up to 80% of all personal PCswill fail when the year 2000 arrives. More than 80,000,000 PCs will be shutdown December 31, 1999 with no problems. On January 1, 2000, some 80,000,000 PCswill go “belly up!” (Jager, p. 1) These computers will think the Berlin Wallis still standing and that Nixon was just elected President! There is however,a test that you can perform in order to see if you are on of the “lucky”minority that do not have a problem with the year 2000 affecting their PC.

First, set the date on your computer to December 31, 1999. Next, set thetime to 23:58 hours (if you use a 24 hour clock (Zulu time)) or 11:58 p.m. for12 hour clocks. Now, Power Off the computer for at least 3 to 5 minutes. Note:( It is appropriate at this time to utter whatever mantras or religious chantsyou feel may be beneficial to your psyche ).

Next, Power On the computer, andcheck your time and date. If it reads January 1, 2000 and about a minute or twopast midnight, breathe a sigh of relief, your OS is free from the year 2000″bug.” If however, your computer gives you wrong information, such as my own PCdid (March 12, 1945 at 10:22 a.m.) welcome to the overwhelming majority of thepopulation that has been found “infected.”All applications, from spreadsheets to e-mail, will be adversely affected.

What can you do? Maybe you can replace your computer with one that is Year 2000compatible. Is the problem in the RTC (Real Time Clock), the BIOS, the OS?Even if you fix the hardware problem, is all the software you use going to makethe “transition” safely or is it going to corrupt as well?!The answers to these questions and others like them are not answerable witha yes or a no.

For one thing, the “leading experts” in the computer worldcannot agree that there is even a problem, let alone discuss the magnitude uponwhich it will impact society and the business world. CNN correspondant JedDuvall illustrates another possible “problem” scenario. Suppose an individualon the East Coast, at 2 minutes after midnight in New York City on January 1,2000 decides to mark the year and the century by calling a friend in California,where because of the time zone difference, it is still 1999. With the currentconfigurations in the phone company computers, the NewYorker will be billed from00 to 99, a phone call some 99 years long!!! (p. 1)

What if you deposit $100 into a savings account that pays 5% interestannually. The following year you decide to close your account. The bankcomputer figures your $100 was there for one year at 5% interest, so you get$105 back, simple enough. What happens though, if you don’t take your money outbefore the year 2000? The computer will re-do the calculation exactly the sameway. Your money was in the bank from ’95 to ’00. That’s ’00 minus ’95, whichequals a negative 95 (-95). That’s -95 years at 5% interest. That’s a littlebit more than $10,000, and because of the minus sign, it’s going to subtractthat amount from your account. You now owe the bank $9,900. Do I have yourattention yet??!!

There is no industry that is immune to this problem, it is a cross-platformproblem. This is a problem that will affect PCs, minis, and mainframes. Thereare no “quick fixes” or what everyone refers to as the “Silver Bullet.” TheSilver Bullet is the terminology used to represent the creation of an automaticfix for the Yk2 problem. There are two major problems with this philosophy.

First, there are too many variables from hardware to software of different typesto think that a “cure-all” can be found that will create an “across-the-board”type of fix. Secondly, the mentality of the general population that there issuch a “fix” or that one can be created rather quickly and easily, is creatingsituations where people are putting off addressing the problem due to relianceon the “cure-all.” The ” . . . sure someone will fix it.” type attitudepervades the industry and the population, making this problem more serious thanit already is.(Jager, p. 1)

People actually think that there is a programthat you can start running on Friday night . . . everybody goes home, and Mondaymorning the problem has been fixed. Nobody has to do anything else, the Yk2problem poses no more threat, it has been solved. To quote Peter de Jager,”Such a tool, would be wonderful.

How will this affect society and the industry in 2000? How stable willsoftware design companies be as more and more competitors offer huge”incentives” for people to “jump ship” and come work for them on theirproblems!? Cash flow problems will put people out of business. Computerprogrammers will make big bucks from now until 2000, as demand increases fortheir expertise. What about liability issues that arise because company “A”reneged on a deal because of a computer glitch. Sue! Sue! Sue! What about ATMlockups, or credit card failures, medical emergencies, downed phone systems. This is a wide spread scenario because the Yk2 problem will affect all theseelements and more.

As is obvious, the dimensions to this challenge are apparent. Givensociety’s reliance on computers, the failure of the systems to operate properlycan mean anything from minor inconveniences to major problems: Licenses andpermits not issued, payroll and social service checks not cut, personnel,medical and academic records malfunctioning, errors in banking and finance,accounts not paid or received, inventory not maintained, weapon systemsmalfunctioning (shudder!), constituent services not provided, and so on, and soon, and so on. Still think you’ll be unaffected . . . highly unlikely. Thisproblem will affect computations which calculate age, sort by date, comparedates, or perform some other type of specialized task.

The Gartner Group hasmade the following approximations: At $450 to $600 per affected computer program,it is estimated that a medium size company will spend from $3.6 to $4.2 millionto make the software conversion. The cost per line of code is estimated to be$.80 to $1. VIASOFT has seen program conversion cost rise to $572 to $1,204.

ANDERSEN CONSULTING estimates that it will take them more than 12,000 workingdays to correct its existing applications. YELLOW CORPORATION estimates it willspend approximately 10,000 working days to make the change. Estimates for thecorrection of this problem in the United States alone is upward of $50 to $75Billion dollars.

Is it possible to eliminate the problem? Probably not, but we can make thetransition much smoother with cooperation and the right approach. Companies andgovernment agencies must understand the nature of the problem. Unfortunately,the spending you find for new software development will not be found in Yk2research. Ignoring the obvious is not the way to approach this problem. Toassume that the problem will be corrected when the system is replaced can be acostly misjudgment. Priorities change, development schedules slip, and systemcomponents will be reused, causing the problem to be even more widespread.

Correcting the situation may not be so difficult as it will be timeconsuming. For instance, the Social Security Administration estimates that itwill spend 300 man-years finding and correcting these date references in theirinformation systems – systems representing a total of 30 million lines of code.

Common sense dictates that a comprehensive conversion plan bedeveloped to address the more immediate functions of an organization (such asinvoices, pay benefits, collect taxes, or other critical organization functions),and continue from there to finish addressing the less critical aspects ofoperation. Some of the automated tools may help to promote the “repair” of thesystems, such as in:* line by line impact analysis of all date references within a system, bothin terms of data andprocedures;* project cost estimating and modeling;* identification and listing of affected locations;* editing support to make the actual changes required;* change management;* and testing to verify and validate the changed system.

Clock simulators can run a system with a simulated clock date and can useapplications that append or produce errors when the year 2000 arrives while datefinders search across applications on specific date criteria, and browsers canhelp users perform large volume code inspection. As good as all these”automated tools” are, there are NO “Silver Bullets” out there. There are noquick fixes. It will take old fashioned work-hours by personnel in order tomake this “rollover” smooth and efficient.

Another area to look at are the implications for public health information. Public health information and surveillance at all levels of local, state,federal, and international public health are especially sensitive to anddependent upon dates for epidemiological (study of disease occurrence, location,and duration) and health statistics reasons. The date of events, durationbetween events, and other calculations such as age of people are coreepidemiologic and health statistic requirements.

Along withthis, public health authorities are usually dependent upon the primary dataproviders such as physician practices, laboratories, hospitals, managed careorganizations, and out-patient centers etc., as the source for original dataupon which public health decisions are based.

The CDC (Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention) for example, maintains over 100 public healthsurveillance systems all of which are dependent upon external sources of data. This basically means that it is not going to be sufficient to makethe internal systems compliant to the year 2000 in order to address all of theramifications of this issue. To illustrate this point, consider the followingscenario: in April 2000, a hospital sends an electronic surveillance record tothe local or state health department reporting the death of an individual whowas born in the year “00”; is this going to be a case of infant mortality or ageriatric case?

Finally, let’s look at one of the largest software manufacturingcorporations and see what the implications of the year 2000 will be forMicrosoft products. Microsoft states that Windows 95 and Windows NT are capableof supporting dates up until the year 2099. They also make the statementhowever: “It is important to note that when short, assumed dates (mm/dd/yy) areentered, it is impossible for the computer to tell the difference between a dayin 1905 and 2005. Microsoft’s products, that assume the year from these shortdates, will be updated in 1997 to make it easier to assume a 2000-based year.

As is obviously clear from the information presented, Yk2 is a problem tobe reckoned with. The wide ranging systems (OS) and software on the marketlend credence to the idea that a “silver bullet” fix is a pipe dream in theextreme. This is not however, an insurmountable problem. Efficient trainingand design is needed, as well as a multitude of man-hours to effect the”repairs” needed to quell the ramifications and repercussions that willinevitably occur without intervention from within.

The sit back and wait for acure-all approach will not work, nor is it even imaginable that some people (ISpeople) with advanced knowledge to the contrary, would buy into this propagandaof slow technological death. To misquote an old adage, “The time for action was10 years ago.” Whatever may happen, January 1, 2000 will be a very interestingtime for some, a relief for others . . . and a cyanide capsule for the”slackers.” What will you do now that you are better “informed?” Hopefully youwill effect the necessary “repairs and pass the word to the others who may betaking this a little too lightly. It may not be a matter of life or death, butit sure as heck could mean your job and financial future.


  1. Elgan, Mike.”Experts bemoan the denial of “2000 bug”.”Http:// ( 31 October 1996).
  2. Jager, Peter de.”DOOMSDAY.” Http:// November 1996).
  3.  Believe me it’s real ! Early Warning.” Http:// November 1996).
  4. Biting the Silver Bullet.” Http:// November 1996).
  5. Duvall, Jed.”The year 2000 does not compute.” Http:// November 1996).
  6. ITAA. “The Year 2000 Software Conversion: Issues and Observations.”Http:// ( 7 November 1996).
  7. Seligman, James & Issa, Nabil.”The Year 2000 Issue: Implications for PublicHealth Information and Surveillance Systems.”Http:// November 1996).
  8. Microsoft.”Implications of the Year 2000 on Microsoft Products.”Http:// November 1996).

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Year 2000: Fiction, Fantasy, and Fact. (2019, Feb 07). Retrieved from