Y2k bug: From time bomb to dud

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Thursday December 2 2:04 AM ET

Y2K Bug: From Time Bomb to Dud

By Neil Winton

LONDON (Reuters) - The millennium computer bug has mutated from a time bomb into a dud.

Former Cassandras are backing away from scenarios that predicted chaos around the world as computers crashed at midnight on Dec. 31 because of the ubiquitous bug. Now these experts say that thanks to their perception in identifying the problem and the effectiveness of their public relations effort, the world can party into the next millennium without fear.

The lights will not go out at midnight. Telephones will work normally, once the traditional New Year phoning frenzy has died down. Jumbo jets will not fall from the sky. Civilized life as we know it will not come to an abrupt halt.

But this hoped-for happy outcome has not come cheaply. U.S. information technology research company Gartner Group said companies around the world would have to spend between $300 billion and $600 billion to fix the problem.

IDC, another U.S. high technology consultancy, estimated in a report last month that by the end of 1999 the world will have spent $250 billion finding, replacing, rewriting, testing and documenting computer code infected by the bug.

And all because lazy computer programmers in the 1980s used two digits, such as 89 or 97, to record dates on software, knowing that this would trip over the two zeros in 2000 and cause computers to crash or spew out corrupt data.

They knew that this shorthand, to conserve what was then precious and scarce memory, would cripple data processing if not rectified before clocks ticked into 2000. But they gambled that the progress of technology would be fast enough to render obsolete this method of using dates.

They lost, setting off this expensive race to fix computer systems before midnight on Dec. 31 to avoid disaster.

Some Disruption But Barely Noticeable

IDC believes the race has been won, although some disruption may occur if people fear that there will be problems and rush to hoard necessities like cash or food.

``There will be some disruptions, whether from Y2K-related computer glitches, bad weather or aberrant behavior of the populace,'' IDC said in the report. ``But wholesale hysteria is clearly not called for,'' it added.

Some countries, such as China and Vietnam, are more vulnerable than others, according to IDC. But even there disruption is likely to be minimal.

``Sure, China has a miserable record of Y2K remediation -- yet in a country with little in the way of dependable infrastructure, a little computer downtime will have little impact,'' the report said.

``Relatively speaking, Latin America and Asia Pacific will feel the most pain -- they are automated economies with lots of pirated software and not a lot of remediation. Eastern Europe and Africa will escape because they aren't automated in the first place. First World countries will be fine because they have worked so hard to fix the problem,'' IDC said.

It dismissed claims by economists such as Ed Yardeni of Deutsche Banc Alex Brown that Y2K disruption is a threat to the global economy.

``Y2K will have only a minor impact on the global economy,'' said Tom Oleson, IDC analyst and one of the report's authors. ''We estimate that the financial impact of Y2K will be around $25 billion, and out of a total economy of over $100 trillion in revenues that doesn't seem much, just a minor problem.''

Important Industrial Sectors In Good Shape

Research by Reuters correspondents backs up this outlook. Few experts believe airliners will be hit by computer failure, although there may be some problems from ticketing and baggage systems. Air traffic control is expected to work worldwide.

``There are no no-fly areas,'' said a spokesman for British Airways. ``If we had any doubts we would cancel our flights, but there are no reasons to do so.''

The world banking system is said to be solid, although some worry that weak links in the system might pose a threat.

``It doesn't matter how good a driver you are because you have to rely on other people not making mistakes, and it's the same with banks and Y2K,'' one senior banker told Reuters.

Retailers, relying on complicated supply chains heavily dependent on computers, say they are debugged and ready.

World stock markets expect business as usual after the long holiday weekend.

But not everybody is convinced. Professor Gary North publishes a Web site (http://www.garynorth.com) with advice on what he believes is an upcoming Y2k disaster.

North, who has moved his family to northwest Arkansas, says computer crashes will rock the industrialized world. He believes no power generation on Earth is safe from infection.

This, coupled with failing telephone infrastructure, could spell havoc for weeks or even months in the industrialized world, North says. He provides a survival check list including advice on wood stoves, water and food. Of the stock market, he says, ``Get out of it. Now.'' And he recommends acquiring gold coins because banks and automated teller machines will crash.

The last resort will be items that can be bartered easily, he said in a recent newsletter. ``There are the old favorites: cigarettes, chewing tobacco, bullets, condoms, toilet paper, and other easily recognized items for which there is demand. These are near-money; barter items that have broad appeal.''

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), December 02, 1999


Homer, never mind that the author of this pearl is brainded, but this is the 3rd or 4th posting of the same article. Sysop, please delete.

-- Brooklyn (MSIS@cyberdude.com), December 02, 1999.

Quite posting this meaningless babble. The idiot writer probably doesn't even have the brain power to full grasp the "internet" let alone the Y2K bug. gimme a break.

Hey everyone.....forget about Y2K... my grandma says its a hoax!!!

-- C. Hill (pinionsmachine@hotmail.com), December 02, 1999.

I see this posted below, delete.

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), December 02, 1999.


Be nice to Homer, the guy is the best poster on this thing!

John Ludi

-- Ludi (ludi@rollin.com), December 02, 1999.

Ludi- I 2nd that emotion! Thanks for all you do Homer.

on de rock

-- Walter (on de rock@northrock.bm), December 02, 1999.

Another brain-dead journalist writes a Y2k article. How convincing, especially since it's backed by almost nothing factual. Journalist idiots....there but for the grace of God, go I...

-- haha (haha@haha.com), December 02, 1999.

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