[IWAR] Y2K sitrep

From: Michael Wilson (MWILSON/0005514706at_private)
Date: Thu Jan 15 1998 - 11:07:37 PST

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       Thursday January 15 8:52 AM PST 
    Legal issues plague Year 2000 management
       By Robert Lemos
       SANTA CLARA, CALIF. - The year 2000 software bug poses a host of
       technical problems for the software industry, but resolving the legal
       issues will be just as difficult, an expert said on Wednesday.
       "The legal consequences could be catastrophic for many companies," said
       Robert Feldman, a partner at law firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich &
       Rosati. Feldman spoke to a gathering of attorneys and corporate counsels
       at the Software Publishers Association's Advanced Corporate Counsel
       Attendees worried whether companies shackled with the costs of adapting
       software to work in the year 2000 would sue original software makers in
       an effort to recoup the costs of upgrading their systems.
       According to Gartner Group Inc. estimates, a medium-sized company will
       spend about $4 million to update its systems. That doesn't include legal
       fees. Issues with explicit or implied warranties, product liability and
       economic loss could swamp the courts as Year 2000 anxiety turns to fear.
       "Hopefully, we won't be seeing too many claims," said Feldman. "The
       point is to get the problem fixed."
       The Year 2000 problem originates with a programming shortcut used early
       in computing history, when systems had much less memory than they do
       today. To save memory, programmers cut dates from an eight to a
       six-digit number, so that January 1, 2000, for example, would become
       000101. Unfortunately, the software takes this to mean January 1, 1900.
       The big deal with this is that any application that needs a date to
       function will be confused when the actual year 2000 rolls around.
       Patients admitted to hospitals will find that they have not yet been
       born, while credit card transactions might be refused, since the
       computer may find the card had not yet been issued.
       The scope of the Year 2000 bug is enormous. According to Feldman, fixing
       the software errors could require $50 billion to $75 billion in the
       United States alone.
       "What's unusual about this problem is that it has to be solved," he
       said. "You can't sit around and do nothing."
       But many companies are only slowly looking for a solution. In an attempt
       to kick Corporate America in the keister, the legal staff at the
       Security and Exchange Commission issued a missive this week requesting
       that companies outline their Year 2000 efforts within this year's annual
       While firms do not have to comply with the request, Feldman believed the
       letter would bring the issue to the forefront. "The SEC changed the
       playing field," said the attorney, stating that management could no
       longer ignore the issue.
       In 1997, only 60 of the more than 13,000 public companies had Year 2000
       disclosures in their annual reports.
       Copyright ) 1998 ZDNet. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in
       part in any form or medium without express written permission of ZDNet
       is prohibited. ZDNet and the ZDNet logo are trademarks of Ziff-Davis
       Publishing Company
             It's not safe to assume you won't have a problem with year 2000
          Copyright ) 1998 Nando.net
          Copyright ) 1998 Scripps Howard
       (January 15, 1998 02:01 a.m. EST http://www.nando.net) - They may not
       run mainframe computers with millions of lines of COBOL code that must
       be repaired at $1 a line. But small businesses face Year 2000 computer
       troubles of their own.
       The problems may lurk unnoticed in data stored in mass market software
       that itself will be able to handle the transition to the next century
       without major incident. And that may be encouraging a dangerous sense of
       "It's very bad to assume anything," says Kate Kaiser, a consultant on
       the issue who is working with a consulting firm called GIGA Information
       Group while on leave from Marquette University, where she is an
       information technology professor.
       Moreover, some off-the-shelf software packages purchased by smaller
       companies over the years may have been altered by independent contract
       programmers they hired in the past to customize some aspect of a
       standard business software program.
       "Very few packages can be run out of a box," says Tom Piehler, who
       oversees the Wisconsin operations of Interactive Business Systems, a
       consulting firm specializing in management information systems.
       "We've run into clients who aren't aware that changes were made. And, in
       some cases, there is no documentation to be found on exactly what was
       Even if nothing has been tampered with, there can be problems.
       A lot of small companies depend on basic accounting software such as
       Intuit's QuickBooks or Peachtree Software's Complete Accounting to keep
       their business accounts and ledgers.
       How will such applications work two years from now?
       Consider this fact: Expanding all existing dates from two-digit years to
       four-digit years is considered the most reliable way to deal with the
       Year 2000 problem.
       Four-digit years eliminate the possibility that a computer can
       misinterpret what century a date belongs in after a computer's internal
       clock rolls over into the new century on Jan. 1, 2000.
       As surprising as it may seem, there is no way to enter four-digit years
       into QuickBooks for Windows and Macintosh, according to materials the
       company supplied in answer to requests for comment about Year 2000
       The software only recognizes the years 1928 through 2027. And while this
       avoids any confusion about the correct century on any date during that
       period, this approach is not without its shortcomings.
       One specific problem with a fixed time frame that spans the millennium,
       according to Lucinda Powers, a certified public accountant in the
       Milwaukee office of Coopers and Lybrand, is the inability to have the
       software track depreciation on a building for 39 years. If you try it,
       it bumps into a wall in 2027.
       "A lot of small businesses own buildings," she points out.
       For another popular personal finance program, Quicken 98, Intuit
       recently switched the way the software interprets the century for
       two-digit years. It reversed a long-standing practice of interpreting
       12/31/03 as Dec. 31, 1903, and 12/31/03 as Dec. 31, 2003. Now it is the
       exact opposite.
       All two-digit years between 00 and 27 are affected. Will imported data
       need to be changed?
       No, says an Intuit spokeswoman. The data should convert automatically.
       Perhaps the most perplexing packaged software is also the most pervasive
       -- Microsoft Office, which has spreadsheet, database and word processing
       applications linked together.
       The surprise here is that each element in the suite of software products
       takes a slightly different approach to Year 2000 issues. Still,
       Microsoft defends its Office suite as Year 2000 "ready."
       "They won't say 'compliant' because that means something else," says
       Kaiser. "Office 97 can have four-digit years, but if you bring in a
       spreadsheet that is two-digits, you have to add the century. Microsoft
       training manuals don't tell you how to do it.
       "Most people are dealing with archived data. Even if you buy something
       new (that is Year 2000 compliant), you're not starting your business
       that day and you are going to have to interpret old data."
       In a memo titled "Talking Points on the Year 2000 Issue," Tamarie Ellis
       of Microsoft concedes that point, saying the software giant recommends
       that customers "convert all years stored as two digits to four digits
       and confirm the accuracy of the conversion."
       In other words, your software is not going to do this for you
       automatically now or at any time before 1/1/2000. There is no "silver
       bullet" solution for small businesses operating with PC software. The
       expectation that the situation will resolve itself is mistaken, say
       "A single technology provider, even one as well-prepared for the Year
       2000 as Microsoft, cannot solve all issues related to the transition to
       the Year 2000," according to the Ellis memo.
       While Microsoft products store dates as four-digit years (even when only
       two digits show) and are "designed with the ability to handle four-digit
       dates well into the next century," the company will not warrant that its
       products are Year 2000 "compliant."
       The term "compliant" can only be used if a set of specific international
       standards for the issue are met.
       "The real Year 2000 readiness issues are more about testing, good
       practices and user education than product warranty," the Microsoft memo
       states. "Warranties specific to the Year 2000 readiness are not
       appropriate, given the true nature of Year 2000 issues."
       Even if Microsoft did have its act completely together, the experts say
       it could not control how other software developers' products interact
       with Microsoft applications.
       Data can be contaminated in the modern desktop from one manufacturer's
       application to another when information is shared.
       "People have to know their own data and know how it is set up," says
       Kaiser. "If you don't compute with the date, you don't have to worry
       about it. But invoices, for example, have tons of dates."
       Ellis' memo states:
       "Since there is no industry-wide standard on how to interpret two-digit
       year shortcuts, some PC applications in use today may interpret a
       two-digit year date differently than the user needs.
       "Relative to the severity and expense of the mainframe problem, this is
       a minor issue."
       Still, it must be dealt with. One place to begin on any personal
       computer running Microsoft Windows 95 is to go to the control panel and
       set the "short date style" from a two-digit (yy) format to a four-digit
       (yyyy) format.
       This will enable the user to see how present software is interpreting
       the two-digit years it has stored.
       The advice applies to desktop PCs used by larger corporations as well.
       "Individual users create their own spreadsheets to compute data to be
       entered into mainframe programs," Kaiser points out. "You can get
       contaminated stuff into mainframes that way.
       "If you set up your own spreadsheets, only you know what to do. What do
       those dates do to those balances? Nobody can know your situation and
       what you do with it."
       Further complicating the matter are changes that have been made behind
       the scenes in various versions of applications.
       For example, Microsoft Access 97 interprets a manually entered two-digit
       year from 00 to 29 as a short-cut representing the years 2000 to 2029.
       Access 95 and earlier versions, on the other hand, interpret those
       shortcuts as representing the year 1900 to 1929.
       In versions 4, 5, and 7 of Microsoft Excel, "00" to "19" are interpreted
       as 21st century dates. The newer Excel 97 increases the post-millennium
       window on the two-digit years by 10 from "00" to "29."
       Kaiser, for one, is critical of the patchwork approach.
       "Microsoft could make it compliant," she says. "Probably in '99 they'll
       come out with one that will be fine. The biggest thing they could do (in
       the meantime) is not act like it's not a problem."
       By DOUGLAS ARMSTRONG, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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