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Millennium bug immunity

There can hardly be anyone left in the world who hasn't been told that the entire fabric of western civilisation will be torn asunder at 00.01 on 1 January 2000 because computers may, or may not, recognise that date, writes Bob Whittington. 'So what!', you say. 'I'm a struggling artist who uses computers to produce drawings and I don't process data so it doesn't affect me.'

Unfortunately, the big corporations and departments who make up our clients, driven into a frenzy by the need to avoid being part of the mayhem, are starting to ask for 'certificates of 2000 compliance' from consultants, subcontractors and suppliers. So how do you get one?

As the millennium approaches we are bound to find that the sort of people who specialise in 'compliance certificates' are increasingly expensive and rare. However, provided it's done correctly, most companies should accept an official company statement, signed by a director, which lists what you have done to ensure compliance.

Firstly, make a schedule of everything you do that involves dates and state that none of those operations is critical to your business efficiency or the services you provide. Most architects, for example, really do not perform any date-dependent computer processes.

Secondly, check to see if any equipment you have uses date information: this includes faxes, franking machines, lifts and telephone systems. If it does use dates, either set it past 1999 and see if it still works or get the manufacturer to confirm it will cope with 2000 and put a record of it on your statement.

Finally, look at your computer systems. If a network is used, set its fileserver date to 31 December 1999 on a Friday evening (it helps to warn people that you intend to do this as some of us do work late and weekends) and then come into the office on Saturday morning to see what the network says. It should say 'Hello, it's 1 January 2000 . . . boy, that was some party last night' or words to that effect. If you don't run a network, set each computer to 31 December and run through the same process.

If it has recognised the year 2000 you are most of the way there. Many networks set the date of client computers as they log in, so you could can then go round the office switching on computers to see if they know it's 2000. If you have several computers of the same type they don't all have to be adjusted, but make sure all types of computer are checked.

They should all cope ok. I have done this to over 100 computers, including old Amstrads, and all seem to recognise 2000 and beyond. If they don't, you still have two years in which to deal with the problem.

If your computers are chugging away thinking it is the first of January 2000 it is then worth running a sample of all your regularly used software, cad, wordprocessing packages, spreadsheets or whatever, to make sure they can deal with the system date. In spite of being told otherwise, I have mostly found that even software that deals in years as two digits knows that 00 means 2000, not 1900.

Once that's done you can genuinely sign the statement saying you have checked all systems for 2000 compliance. It is also worth saying that you have done a dummy run as described above so that even the most bureaucratic of clients can't fail to log you as totally 'compliant' on its database.

Real nit-pickers could also check to see if the system knows 2000 is a leap year, but that seems a minor problem.

One more thing - don't forget to set the system back to the real date before you go home, otherwise you may find a year 2000 disaster waiting for you on Monday morning.

Bob Whittington is it director of Stride Treglown

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