Y2K Is Back: Does Anyone Care?

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Y2K Is Back: Does Anyone Care?

By Anick Jesdanun Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Leap year's extra day arrives Tuesday carrying the possibility of Y2K-like glitches. But given the calm that greeted the new millennium, few computer consultants are worried this time.

There's no government call to stock up on food or water. Any problems will likely affect billing and office systems rather than power supply or airplanes.

Still, Y2K planners will be watching, if for no other reason than to celebrate.

"Once we're through ... the chances of multiple failures and multiple problems at once become almost nonexistent," said Kendra Martin, spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute.

Computers long have had trouble registering Feb. 29 - treating it as March 1, or March 1 as Feb. 30. - and there are greater risks of programming errors this year because 2000 is an exception to an exception. An extra day is added every four years, except for years that end in "00" unless divisible by 400. So 2000 is a leap year, but 1900 is not.

The potential for confusion is not a surprise.

"I can't imagine there would be any Y2K consultant irresponsible enough to fix New Year's Eve and not, while he's there, do something about Feb. 29," said Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who heads the Senate's Y2K advisory committee.

In fact, the extra attention might make Tuesday's transition smoother than in leap years past, said Matt Hotle, research director for the technology consulting firm Gartner Group.

Patrick Dorinson, whose group monitors California's power grid, said he expects the transition to be as low-key as "switching from standard time to daylight savings."

The Feb. 29 problem is different from Y2K, which stemmed from a programming shortcut of using only two digits for a year. Left uncorrected, the Y2K bug could have fouled computers that control power grids, air traffic and phone networks. The leap year problem could simply throw off computer's calendars by a day.

Y2K glitches that appeared were largely quirky, along the lines of Web sites displaying the year as 19100 or bills showing 1900.

A few were worrisome, such as a Pentagon computer failure that interrupted the flow of spy satellite information. Some merchants posted duplicate credit card charges. Courthouse computers in Italy mixed up prisoner dates by 100 years. And hospitals in Sweden, Egypt and Great Britain reported non-lethal bug bites in medical equipment.

But widespread disruptions never materialized, largely because programmers killed the bug in time and consultants overestimated infrastructure systems' dependence on technology.

The price tag for Y2K preparation and repairs was estimated to be $100 billion in the United States alone.

Any Feb. 29 glitches that might occur should be quickly repairable.

Microsoft Corp. issued an update to take care of a Feb. 29 problem with Excel 2000 spreadsheets, while other software packages incorporated Feb. 29 into a general Y2K fix.

Most consumers need not worry if they already updated their computers for Y2K, but it would be wise to review billing and other statements that come from businesses, said John Koskinen, President Clinton's Y2K czar.

Some Y2K pessimists, however, note that Jan. 1 fell on a weekend and that businesses shut nonessential systems for the transition. Tuesday will be business as usual.

Other Y2K-related dates have passed with little fanfare: Feb. 4, 1999, when most airlines began booking tickets for this year; Sept. 9, or 9-9-99, a "stop" code in older computers; and Oct. 1, the start of federal fiscal 2000.

Future potential problem dates include March 31, when businesses generate quarterly reports, and Dec. 31, the 366th day of the leap year. Beyond that, Unix computers that count dates in seconds might run out of space in 2038. And programmers who used a common, short-term Y2K fix known as windowing will face another rollover in 10, 20 or 30 years.

Government and industry officials aren't holding their breaths. The International Y2K Cooperation Center of the United Nations and World Bank will turn in its keys this week. Koskinen's domestic Y2K council will dismantle in March. And many companies and states have already shifted Y2K responsibilities to regular maintenance teams.

"Y2K is dead," said Kazim Isfahani, formerly the Y2K analyst with Giga Information Group. "Let's all leave it well and move on."


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), February 27, 2000

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