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Unless you've spent the last few years stranded on a desert island, chances are you've felt the wave of panic sweeping the world regarding computers and the year 2000. It seems like everyone is preparing for the day when computers might freeze or go haywire, as banks, hospitals, airports, and the PC empire frantically try to anticipate and forestall the damage the year 2000 may bring to businesses around the world.

The bottom line: at the stroke of midnight, January 1, 2000, some computers and other digital systems–such as ATMs, security equipment, communications services, power plants, and industrial automation–will stop working.

At their most basic, Y2K (yes, that's short for "year 2000") problems are simple to understand: if a system doesn't handle dates properly, it may become confused by years ending with "00." Systems that correctly handle dates past the year 2000 are considered Y2K-compliant.

In the real world, Y2K problems could range from the trivial to the catastrophic. Systems may invalidate credit cards, destroy records, shut down power grids, or assess decades' worth of late fees for that library book on your nightstand. And the damage might not stop there. Digital technology is a part of our everyday lives–it's in our coffeemakers, our cars, and even our telephones. As a result, assessing the full potential impact of the year 2000 is a daunting task. No one knows how widespread or significant these problems might be, especially on a global scale.

But forget about the globe. What about your Macintosh?

First, breathe a sigh of relief: even the oldest Macs can deal with dates from January 1, 1904, through February 6, 2040, so there's no fundamental year-2000 disaster lurking inside your Macintosh. If your computer is running system software released in the last decade–System 6.X through Mac OS 8.6–it can handle dates from 30,081 B.C. to A.D. 29,940. The BSD Unix that undergirds Apple's recently released Mac OS X Server supports dates through January 18, 2038.

And as for the year 2040, there's an interesting explanation behind Apple's odd expiration date. The original Mac development team chose midnight, January 1, 1904, as the start of the Mac calendar–in part because it's mathematically convenient to have a calendar system start on a leap year, which 1900 was not. And since the calendar was built to cover approximately 136 years, your Mac OS won't expire until the start of the year 2040.

Because of all this, Apple's a bit smug about the Macintosh and the year 2000–the company even aired a commercial about Y2K during the 1999 Super Bowl. Apple has also assembled a sizable Y2K statement on its Web site ( http://www.apple.com/about/year2000/ ), indicating which hardware components and operating systems the company has tested.

However, even though your Macintosh hardware and OS are ready for the year 2000, that doesn't mean your software–especially custom databases, macros, and spreadsheets–will function correctly once the new year arrives.

Fundamentally, all Y2K problems stem from a computer system's inability to correctly process century information in dates. Some errors arise because the computers are dealing with incomplete date information, such as years expressed with only two digits. In such cases, computers must make assumptions about that information to use it at all. (See the sidebar "It Could Happen to You.")

Some programs may interpret dates differently than you'd like. If you enter a date in the format "1/31/00," a database program may read the date as January 31, 1900, even if the current date is well into the twenty-first century. Although this confusion can be annoying, technically you've entered a date with no century information–it might as easily refer to the year 1300 as the year 2000–and you have to hope your computer is smart enough to know which century you mean. However, that same program would have a Y2K problem if it misinterpreted a date with century information. If entering "1/31/2000" doesn't produce the intended result, you've got trouble. To avoid ambiguity, get into the habit of using four-digit years when entering dates to help isolate Y2K problems.

Even though the Mac OS doesn't have a problem interpreting far-reaching dates, that doesn't mean your software will handle the year 2000. The fact is, not all programs were created to take advantage of the Mac's Y2K savvy.

Frequently, you'll find that applications used on the Macintosh may not be able to use the Mac's built-in date capabilities (see the sidebar "Proceed with Caution"). Similarly, your Mac OS programs may inherit date problems when you use files from other operating systems or those produced by programs with Y2K problems.

The most-common–and most-troublesome–Y2K concerns for Macintosh users are in customized software and scripts. Spreadsheets, databases, scripts, and macros built with everything from FileMaker Pro, Microsoft Excel, and AppleScript are all prime candidates for date-related snafus. It's not that these applications aren't ready for the new year (although some have isolated issues) but that certain folks who use them to build special formulas and macros may not know how to handle the year 2000 correctly. (See the sidebar "It Could Happen to You.")

Before you panic, take comfort in the fact that you're using a Mac. Aside from some minor software tweaks, your faithful Mac should be ready to go when the big apple drops. But to be on the safe side, keep track of the versions of each application and any special features you've created, such as sorting formulas, spreadsheet macros, and scheduling shortcuts.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

Just to be safe, check with the makers of all the software you use–from word processors and graphics applications to accounting packages and backup programs–to see if the programs have been properly tested for the date change and if any problems were found. Most companies dedicate a section of their Web site to product-specific Y2K information (also see the sidebar "Proceed with Caution"). Generally, programs that manipulate date information, such as genealogy software and spreadsheets, are more liable to suffer Y2K mishaps than software such as an Adobe Photoshop filter that never considers dates.

If a program has problems, a corrected version may be available, but it's probably the most recent release with an upgrade fee. And those of you who own older Macs may find that some new versions are available only for PowerPC-based Macs or that the software requires more RAM or disk space than your current Macintosh can provide.

With older programs, you may find that although the software has known Y2K problems, the company is out of business or no longer supports the product. Again, if you can't work around it, you'll have to switch to another program.

Unavoidable Irks

If you use customized databases, scripts, or macros, you need to figure out how they'll handle the year 2000. There are some general Y2K testing procedures (outlined in the sidebar "The Final Countdown") that can help you start troubleshooting. Otherwise, contact the original creator (whether that's a consultant, a shareware author, or someone down the hall) to see if they've reviewed the program for any snags or problems.

Don't let this article fill you with trepidation: the Macintosh is remarkably well prepared for the year 2000, and the vast majority of Mac programs won't have difficulty making the transition to the new year. However, the Mac has no special immunity to the potential crisis ahead and you shouldn't ignore the threat of Y2K incompatibilities. The best preparation you can do is to run our recommended tests on your Mac; check out your software's Y2K status; and then sit back, relax, and grab that bottle of bubbly from the fridge. Your Mac will still be with you next year.

Also see the sidebar "Good to Go"


October 1999 page: 68

Typically the trauma of Y2K won't crash your system, but it may cause programs to behave oddly or present misleading information. A spreadsheet may calculate ages or durations incorrectly because it fails to use built-in date routines, or a database might sort or display information in unexpected ways, even if it's processing dates correctly.

Calculating the Problem

Since a Y2K bug can creep up anywhere, we tracked a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet of a landscaping and horticultural business that operates a dozen vehicles and tracks mileage, depreciation, maintenance costs, and more. The owner's son created the original spreadsheet in the early 1990s, using Microsoft Excel 3.0 on a Mac SE.

We found that when the business acquires a vehicle with a model year greater than 1999, the age calculations will produce incorrect results, regardless of whether the years are entered in the two-digit ("00") or four-digit ("2000") format. In fact, because the owner's son didn't use Excel's built-in data capabilities when he created the formula, this spreadsheet produces incorrect results for any four-digit year, before or after the year 2000.

Users with modest Excel experience can correct this formula, but spreadsheet calculations are intimidating and arcane to many people. One solution would be to rework the spreadsheet (under Format: Cells: Number) so that the program treats data in the Model Year column as dates and then to change the calculation so that it uses built-in date routines.

Dates Gotta Hurt

Databases are also subject to Y2K mishaps and may even have Y2K problems that derive from organizational policy rather than computational error. For example, help-desk consultants at a community college in the state of Washington track technical-support incidents in a database, which assigns each incident a unique ID number.

The database creates the incident IDs with the ID number beginning with the last two digits of the year, followed by two-digit representations of the month and day. In 2000, the database will continue to assign correct ID codes, but how people use the ID numbers will create a Y2K glitch. When consultants start a shift, they search for incidents assigned to them, sorting so that important, recent incidents are listed first. Once the year 2000 begins, new incidents will sort to the bottom of the list instead of the top. Although it would be a trivial task to change the ID number format so that incidents sort correctly, the ID numbers are used by other departments, including one that employs a Web-based tracking system for internal billing. Any changes would have to be approved by several groups, entailing weeks of meetings and bureaucratic coordination.

One solution might be to investigate different ways to sort the database so that users see the results they expect without having to change the ID numbers; however, this may create additional problems for other database users.–GEOFF DUNCAN

Check the current Y2K status of all your Mac applications

Your Mac may not have been bitten by the Y2K bug, but that doesn't mean that your files and documents are immune to Y2K corruption. Consult our application checklist to make sure your essential programs are ready to ring in the new year.*--RICH BARRON and http://www.macnologist.com

Company: Apple Computer
Product: Cyberdog
Version: 2.0
Problem: In e-mail messages and newsgroup postings, Cyberdog will use a three-digit year in the date header of outgoing messages after 1999.
Solution: Download a patch from http://www.cyberdog.org.

CE Software
Prior to 3.5.3
Solution:http://www.cesoft.comCE Software
QuickMail Pro Client
Prior to 1.5.4
Solution:http://www.cesoft.comCE Software
QuickMail Pro Server
Prior to 1.1.1
Virtual PC
Prior to 2.1.1
MacLinkPlus Deluxe
Prior to 10.1
FileMaker Pro
Prior to 2.1
FileMaker Pro
Prior to 4.1v2
Solution:http://www.filemaker.com/about/year2000directory.htmlGlobal Village
Prior to 2.6.8
Solution:http://www.globalvillage.comGlobal Village
Global Village or PowerPort 56K PC Card Software
Prior to 3.0.6
Solution:http://www.globalvillage.comInsignia Solutions
All versions
Solution:Insignia Solutions
All versions
Solution:Insignia Solutions

1.0.2 for 680X0 Macs; 1.0.3 for Performas; 3.0.3 for Power Macs
QuickBooks and QuickBooks Pro
Prior to 4 M12
98 prior to R5
Outlook Express
4.0 through 4.0c
NetWare for Mac
3.12 or prior
Solution:http://www.novell.comNow Software/Qualcomm
Now Up-To-Date
Solution:http://www.now.qualcomm.comPegasus Software
Pegasus Mail
Solution:http://www.pegasus.usa.comPrairie Group Software

List compiled by freelance writer RICH BARRON. For the most-up-to-date news about Y2K compliance, log onto http://www.macnologist.com/y2k/.

Thankfully, our Macintosh hardware and operating systems are ready for the year 2000. But what about all those applications and files? Luckily, you won't have to leave the fate of your Mac to the Millennium Gods. In fact, there are a few things you can do to prepare for the dreaded date.

It's a good idea to track the latest 2000 news and run periodic system checks; you can also safeguard your Mac by performing the following tasks. Remember, always back up your computer before beginning the following tests and make sure you have the latest updates to your software. These tips are especially important if you're running Linux–rather than the Mac OS–on your Mac.

Task 1

Turn off any automated backup software or schedulers. Since these tests involve changing dates on your Mac, it's possible that your computer will think past appointments should be deleted, browser cookies should expire, or the wrong files should be backed up. The safest way to run these tests is to work on duplicate test files and then throw away the duplicates when you're done.

Task 2

Open the Date & Time control panel and set it for 11:58 p.m., 12/31/99. Turn off your computer for at least three minutes. This will prompt the operating system to roll over to the year 2000 while your computer is turned off. If the transition is successful, reset the control panel to the above date and time and let the transition occur with the computer turned on. If the OS fails to roll over to the year 2000, you have an OS-level Y2K problem.

Task 3

With your Mac set in the next millennium, you can start looking for problem programs and data files. Test all of the date formats available with two-digit and four-digit years. Save and close files, and relaunch them. If possible, import, export, and run calculations on files with dates in short and long formats. Make sure that two-digit 1900 dates are not accepted as 2000 dates and vice versa. Sort the files to make sure that a year-2000 date is seen as more recent than a 1999 date. Also look through a copy of your actual data files for the same problems.

Task 4

Duplicate the previous tests with the following dates:

Some applications start having date-related prolems a year earlier than expected.

If the date is shortened to 9999, it could cause problems with some files or applications.

"Tomorrow" should be seen as 01/01/2000 in all applications that use dates.

The year 2000 should follow 1999.

The year 2000 is a leap year. Make sure applications don't roll over to 03/01/2000 from 02/28/2000.

Some applications might misbehave in 2001 and beyond.

Task 5

Upon completion, set the date back to the present time, enable any disabled software, and trash your test files. Keep a watchful eye for any problems that testing may have introduced.–RICH BARRON

Company: Adobe Systems
Web site: http://www.adobe.com

   Illustrator 6.0 and later
   PageMaker 6.5 and later
   PageMill 2.0 and later
   Photoshop 4.0 and later

Company: Aladdin Systems
Web site: http://www.aladdinsys.com

   StuffIt Expander 4.0 and later

Company: Apple Computer
Web site: http://www.apple.com

   AppleWorks 5.0 and later
   ClarisWorks 5.0 and later

Company: Dantz
Web site: http://www.dantz.com

   Retrospect: All versions

Company: Dr. Solomon's Software
Web site: http://www.drsolomon.com

   Virex: All versions

Company: Macromedia
Web site: http://www.macromedia.com

   Director 6.5 and later
   FreeHand 8.01 and later

Company: MicroMat
Web site: http://www.micromat.com

   TechTool Pro 2.0 and later

Company: Netscape
Web site: http://www.netscape.com

   Navigator 2.02 and later

Company: Quark
Web site: http://www.quark.com

   XPress 3.32 and later

Company: Symantec
Web site: http://www.symantec.com

   Norton Antivirus 5.0 and later
   Norton Utilities 3.5.1 and later

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