Y2K bug prophet warns next few weeks crucial

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Y2K bug prophet warns next few weeks crucial

By Natalie James

TORONTO, Jan 5 (Reuters) - One of the world's most quoted Y2K computer bug prophets, Peter de Jager, says all is not over despite the almost total absence of Y2K glitches as the start of the year 2000 came and went.

"Have you received your paycheck? Have you received your Visa bill? Have you received your electrical bill?" said de Jager, the Canadian technology expert widely credited with helping to sound the alarm to the world on the so-called Y2K problem.

"None of these business processes have occurred yet. So, for anyone to suggest we're through Y2K is making the assumption that none of these business processes are going to be affected. That's an extremely naive assumption," de Jager told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

De Jager was one of the most widely quoted Y2K experts who warned of possible widespread power blackouts, nuclear disaster and other catastrophes that could develop unless computers were modified to distinguish 2000 from 1900.

The next few weeks will be crucial to see the back of the Y2K threat, de Jager warned.

"If there are any problems they'll become apparent over the next few weeks," he said.

"When we come through mid-Febuary we can all start putting (the Y2K problem) behind us and leave the rest of the clean-up to the computer people," he predicted.

But with Y2K now more myth than menace, De Jager's predictions are raising questions that his warnings of potential disaster were sometimes overblown and possibly self-serving.

De Jager charged C$7,500 ($5,200) a time as a sought-after public speaker. His web site, www.year2000.com, operating with Houston-based Internet marketing company, Tenagra Corp. has also been profitable, attracting enough advertising to cover its annual expenses of $600,000.

An unidentified bidder recently offered $10 million to buy the site which offered information on the millennium bug, after it was put up for sale on the Internet auction site eBay Inc.

De Jager spent six years traveling the world to warn businesses and governments of the potential for disaster as the new millennium dawned.

He was among the first to realize that a method of recording dates in computer software could cause chaos as clocks struck midnight on January 1, 2000 because of old shortcuts that recorded the year with two digits only. Unless fixed, he warned that this could disrupt everything from airlines to health care to telephones.

His predictions caused the likes of Chase Manhattan Bank to spend $600 million on Y2K preparations, but de Jager admits some companies did spend too much in attempts to safeguard their operations against Y2K-related problems.

"When you try to fix a problem like this, you tend to go at it with a shotgun approach rather than a laser. In other words, you try to fix everything in sight even though you're not sure it's broken," he said.

And what of the legions of computer experts who cashed in on Y2K hysteria? "They're all highly employable. Y2K is nothing but a computer problem. They've solved that so now they can work on other computer projects. They are not obsolete just because Y2K is done." he said.

"As for me, it's time to take a break," said de Jager.

($1=$1.45 Canadian)

14:19 01-05-00

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