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Now that Y2K has come, what was the hype really about???

I've been asked quit a bit by lots of folks (mainly customers) what the big deal was with Y2K. I've talked to various folks to try and give them my opinion about the whole issure.


In a nutshell, this is what I've been saying for all these months:

1) The hype about imbedded processors (which was supposed to make planes fall out the of the sky, cars crash, and the like, was completely crap. Embedded processors are little microchips (tiny computers) that control everything these days from cars to toasters. The fact (the hypesters didn't want to disclose) is that virtually no such systems CARE about the date. Why should your car care about what year it is? And so they wouldn't care if it was 1900 or 1970 1980 or 2000.

2. The hype about personal computers melting down (or otherwise grossly malfunctioning) was almost completely crap. The worst that would have happenned from the hardware point of view is that the date would reset to 1980 (more or less). But think for a second, if the battery in your computer dies, the cmos date gets scrambled or reset, and all that really happens is that you need to get another battery, right? It would hardly cause the computer to fail would it? In fact many of the times I was called in and found a system with a 1980 date, it simply turned out that the battery had worn out IN THAT COMPUTER - NOTHING to do with Y2K!

3) The hype about third-world countries having huge Y2K exposures was almostly completely crap. In the true third world countries, their computer systems are probably too insignificant to their economies, and too rarely used (certainly not available to the great mass of the populace) to have any real impact EVEN if they all melted down simultaneously! And in the more developed countries, where computers were in significant use in significant portions of the goverment or the society, their governments had plenty of warning and time to take care of the issue (more under government exposure below).

4) The hype about Banks, ATMs, Running out of Food, massive societal collapse - was entirely crap. Banks and ATMs are run by massing inhouse software programs -- but almost no one would be using an old program where the date field was so limited. If the software was less than 15 years old, Y2K should not have been an issue. And Banks, ATMs etc would all be using MUCH more recent programming code! And worst case would be your ATM printing the wrong date on your receipt, silly errors on your bills or elsewhere (Wells Fargo in fact sent out bills with a date if 1900. And on Al Gore's website it lists the date improperly as 19100 (not 2000!). But these are trivial matters. They are worth reporting to the papers, but hardly of any importance at all.

5) The hype about governmental exposure was largely crap. The real risks of Y2K could be exemplified by this case: A government bureacracy (say the IRS) using very old programming code (COBOL is the only language where Y2K issues are a real problem since COBOL dates from the era where you were trying to save every possible byte of storage on your hard or tape drives, and saving 2 bytes on a date field (2 bytes instead of a full 4 for the year) makes much sense), where the original source code or the original programmers are no longer available. This in my opinion was the only segment of sociey where Y2K issues were remotely credible. And the government spent $10 BILLION to address this issue. Its easily identifiable (many departments simply advanced the dates on their systems past Dec 31,1999 and watched what happenned), and all they had to do was budget for the reprogramming necessary to solve the problem. Which appears to be what in fact took place.

In summary, according to recent estimates, $100 BILLION was spent on addressing Y2K. I estimate $70 Billion was wasted either spent by companies on high priced consultants or by folks going overboard (some spent as much as $100,000 on generators, food, and the like!) The vast majority of folks talking about Y2K in fact had books, websites or products to sell. And it was in their obvious self-interest to paint as black as possible a picture.

But as I've been saying for a while the biggest Y2K problem I forsee is the angry mobs demanding refunds for the $1,000 Y2K preparedness kits!

Craig Baker 1/3/00