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COMPUTING

Two glitches hit Microsoft Internet services as New Year rolls over

January 3, 2000
Web posted at: 11:56 a.m. EST (1656 GMT)

by Renée Gotcher

From...
InfoWorld
Image

(IDG) -- As the New Year rolled over in the U.S. Friday night, Microsoft experienced two glitches with its consumer Internet services, the Hotmail Internet e-mail service and the MoneyCentral.com financial services site. But although both problems surfaced during the New Year transition, only the Hotmail glitch is considered to be Y2K related, said a spokesman for Microsoft.

"One is ultimately a Y2K issue, and one appears not to be," the spokesman said, adding that earlier reports from other news sources were incorrect in reporting both as Y2K errors.

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The Hotmail glitch involves a display problem in which e-mail sent during or before October 1999 could show up dated with the year 2099. The MoneyCentral problem, in which users' portfolios displayed inflated values for some mutual funds, was ultimately traced to an incorrect data feed from one of Microsoft's third-party providers, Standard & Poor's Comstock financial information service, the spokesman said, and was corrected very shortly after it was discovered.

Microsoft is still working to correct the Hotmail error, the spokesman said. However, there was no disruption in Hotmail service at any time, and the error does not affect display of the message contents or the sending or receiving of mail, he added.

It's also not clear how widespread the problem will be. As of early evening on Jan. 1, Microsoft was aware of only one user affected, the spokesman said - and that was the user who originally reported the error.

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"Early analysis indicated that the issue will only affect a small number of accounts," according to the spokesman, who added that "there's a set of conditions that have to be true for a given message to be affected. And those conditions are rare."

According to Microsoft, both its MoneyCentral and Intuit's Quicken.com financial services sites - which both receive data from S&P's Comstock service - began reporting an overvaluation of some users' portfolios sometime after 1:00 a.m. EST.

Both companies worked to identify it as a data feed problem from the S&P service.

"Our guys and Quicken.com's people were doing what they were supposed to do to handle the problem, but with bad data," the spokesman said. "As soon as they corrected the problem at S&P, new data was fed through the system and replaced all the bad data on our end."

The problem at S&P's Comstock began sometime after the close of the equity markets on Friday, according to Steve Weiss, vice president of corporate communications for the McGraw-Hill Companies, S&P's parent company, in New York.

The S&P data feeds experienced a "decimal point shift" glitch that resulted in incorrect data being transmitted through its mutual fund products. As a result, some portfolio data being served up from sites such as Microsoft's MoneyCentral and Quicken.com displayed users' portfolios at inflated values.

The decimal point glitch was corrected by approximately 2:00am EST, and all receiving ends of the data feeds were updated with the correct values, reported Jim Wintress, a representative at the S&P's Y2K command center, in New York. According to Wintress, at this time the S&P staff who worked on this problem do not believe this a Y2K-related problem.

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"We're still trying to nail down the root of the problem," Weiss said. "We do know that it was rectified soon after it was discovered, and that all of our customers now have completely accurate information. We won't know all the details until Monday, we expect."

Microsoft identified another problem that coincided with the year 2000 rollover earlier this week, but this has not created any problems to the company's knowledge. The problem, which affects Internet Explorer (IE) 4.01 for the Macintosh, relates to the certification expiration date in the browser.

According to the Microsoft spokesman, some certificates embedded in IE 4.01 for Macintosh expired at midnight on December 31, 1999. So users attempting to access a secure site after that date may receive an "expired certificates" warning. However, like the Hotmail glitch, the certificate error is essentially a display problem and does not hinder a secure connection to Internet sites, the Microsoft spokesman said.

"The padlock goes away at the bottom of the browser window, but you still have the same encryption happening on the back end," Sohn said. "You can continue after you get the warning message, and security will not be compromised."

Sohn also said that users were informed of this particular software problem via the Year 2000 update page on the company's Web site about a week before the date change. Macintosh users with Power PC processors can also download an upgrade to Internet Explorer 4.51 at Microsoft's site -- but there is no upgrade for non-Power-PC users.



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