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Experts bemoan denial of '2000 bug'

screen October 13, 1996
Web posted at: 4:45 p.m. EDT

ATLANTA (CNN) -- The year 2000 is practically around the corner, promising great new things. And maybe, some big new problems for computer owners.

The Year 2000 Bug, for lack of a better term, is not really a bug but a computer industry mistake.

It seems that many older business computers, especially mainframes and their software, aren't programmed to compute a future year ending in double zeros.

"The entire industry is in a state of denial," says Mike Elgan an editor of Windows Magazine, who estimates the problem could cost businesses a total of $600 billion to remedy.

Elgan

When the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. in the year 2000, Elgan says, 103-year-old people may get enrollment information on kindergartens because a computer thinks they are 3 years old. Food that is brand new could be ordered destroyed because a computer thinks it is 90 years old.

Until now, mainframes were thought to be in the greatest danger of a malfunction. But Elgan says 60 to 80 million home and small business users who do accounting and math on Windows 3.1 and older software are at equal risk.

Is there plenty of time for repair? Not for people who already are using computers to deal with situations that will carry into the next century -- such as trying to cut the annual federal deficit to zero by the year 2002, for instance.

"We would expect a number of applications to not only not function by January 1, 2000, but start to process and produce erroneous data," warned Devon Fischer of Mutual of Omaha.

"We can't wait to fix it. We have to start addressing the problem now."

So what's a user to do?

First, Elgan advises a quick check of one's PC:

Set the internal clock to 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 1999, or a minute before the year 2000.

Then, turn the computer off and turn it back on. If the date reads "1980," when the computer is restarted, then it has the bug.

bug

There are steps, however, that computer owners can take to avoid catastrophe.

PC owners can upgrade their computer's BIOS or they can go about the expensive business of upgrading their operating system.

If a user has already done that, and has Windows 95, he should be in good shape, for another 99 years.

But that still leaves your software.

If it's old, its clock may be ready to run out in three short years. And upgrading may be the only solution.

Correspondents Brian Nelson and Jed Duvall contributed to this report.
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