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Re: Year 2000 computer problem

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The Year 2000 problem (or Y2K) is a large and complex issue, there is no
universal fix. Here are a few thoughts from a software developers point of
view.

As a vendor of structural software, we have had to review our software to
assess its compliance with Y2K issues. I must admit that when we first
started this, I too felt that it was all overblown hype and, particularly
for PC users, the problems were minimal. However, although we found nothing
of major significance in our own code, the process got me more to thinking
about the other issues that could impact on us and I now take the problem
much more seriously.

Firstly, Y2K issues dont just affect companies writing the source code of
programs, it also requires every company to assess potential problems  in
in-house developed databases (clients lists etc), older programs (old email
clients for example), embedded systems (phones, faxes, fire and security
alarms) and older PCS that may have bad BIOS that are not Y2K compliant
(see http://www.hp.com/desktop/support/year2000/y2k-solution.html for one
example.)

As for modifying code itself, the problem for programs where the source
code is no longer available is severe.It really isnt possible to
effectively reconstruct human readable source code from a compiled program.
An automated means of scanning these is possible in many cases but
certainly not easy. And even if the source is available, the ease of
evaluating it is highly dependent on the quality, coding style and
documentation accompanying it (non existent in many cases).

Probably the two trickiest problems associated with Y2K are embedded
systems (plant process control etc) and developing nations. Embedded
systems rarely have source code available and defy any easy test or
inspection. How well they are checked and upgraded will be very dependent
on how enthusiastic the original manufacturers of the equipment are in
finding the problems (if they are still in business). Also, while I think
we can be fairly confident that critical systems in industrialised
countries like airlines, banks, power supply etc are receiving good
attention, I am not so sure that the economic crises in countries like
Russia and Indonesia is going to make a lot of resources available to
review and upgrade the systems in their nuclear, chemical and power plants.

US$50 billion doesnt sound like an unreasonable number to me when you take
into account all the time which will be spent on this problem, in fact
maybe its low. Individual corporations have already reported Y2K
expenditures in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Yes, there is a lot of
hysteria and hype about the problem, but i think a reasoned engineering
assessment and risk analysis of Y2K turns up many more issues than you
might expect.

As a final note, there is definitely no universal Y2K fix, the boards that
are being offered can only address the BIOS issue, i dont think there is
any way they can make non-Y2K compliant programs run correctly.

Phil

>Earlier this year I sent a letter to the Washington Post as I was
>getting a bit perplexed at many comments in the press concerning the
>so-called Y2K problem. I also discussed this with one of the Post
>reporters. The letter, however, was never published.
>I have written to you in the past only to briefly provide other
>information requested by one or more of your authors. This is a bit
>longer than you probably would desire, but I believe it is relevant.
>Let's see how many of you experienced engineers agree with my original
>"Y2K" letter herewith:
>
>Sophomoric articles and letters continue to appear in the Post regarding
>the "Year 2000 Computer Bug". This is potentially a widespread computer
>problem, but certainly not one requiring $50 billion to correct (as
>quoted in recent Post articles). The ABC News Reports on the internet is
>even estimating a cost of "up to $600 billion will be spent worldwide to
>rewrite 250 billion lines of code".
>I am astonished at the increasing hysteria
...snip


Philip Christensen - PhilC(--nospam--at)formsys.com
Formation Design Systems - http://www.formsys.com
Maxsurf for marine design, Multiframe for structural design,
Neoform for industrial design