A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Will my computer crash on Y2K if I don't perform the procedure someone E-mailed to me?

October 22, 1999

Dear Straight Dope:

I received the following forwarded message yesterday concerning readying one's computer for "Y2K." The procedure is straightforward enough and unlikely to harm one's computer, but is it necessary? I thought the date we needed to get right was in the BIOS, not the operating system. I'm almost inclined to dismiss this ... but not quite ... considering the havoc it could cause if I were wrong. I appreciate your thoughts. --Frank

Forwarded Message

Subject: MUST READ

YOU ARE NOT Y2K READY UNLESS YOU'VE DONE THIS TO YOUR COMPUTER. CHECK IT OUT ... Double click on "My Computer." Double click on "Control Panel." Double click on "Regional Settings" icon. Click on the "Date" tab at the top of the page. Where it says, "Short Date Sample," look and see if it shows a "two digit" year. Of course it does. That's the default setting for Windows 95, Windows 98 and NT. This date RIGHT HERE is the date that feeds application software and WILL NOT roll over in the year 2000. It will roll over to 00. Click on the button across from "Short Date Style" and select the option that shows, mm/dd/yyyy. (Be sure your selection has four Y's showing, not two.) Then click on "Apply" and then click on "OK" at the bottom.

Easy enough to fix. However, every single installation of Windows worldwide is defaulted to fail Y2K rollover. How many people know about it? How many people know to change that? What will be the effect? Who knows? But now that YOU know

This is a crock. As we might have guessed.

Microsoft has a page explaining the situation at http://www.microsoft.com/y2k/hoax/y 2khoax.htm. The procedure above changes the way the date is displayed.  It won't harm anything, but it does not affect the way the date is stored inside the computer. Windows 95, 98, and NT are Y2K-compliant as delivered.  If you use Win 95/98/NT, there is nothing more you have to do as far as the operating system is concerned.   (I assume the latest versions of the Mac OS, Linux, etc., are also Y2K-compliant, but haven't checked.)

However ... there's more to your computer than the operating system.  You also have to be concerned about your computer hardware (specifically your system's internal clock and BIOS, or Basic Input-Output System); your application software, such as the word processor, spreadsheet, or other programs you use to do your daily work; and the data files you have created.  If you work for a company that has its own computer tech staff, you can reasonably assume the situation is under control (although it'd be smart to ask).  If not, Microsoft's Y2K tutorial at http:// computingcentral.msn.com/guide/year2000/msy2k/introducing/y2khome.asp explains what you need to do.

After reading the tutorial you may think, boy, making sure I'm Y2K-compliant sounds like a lot of work. Isn't there an easier way?

Sure. Just set your computer's internal clock to 11:59 p.m., Dec. 31, 1999, shut it off, wait a couple minutes, turn it back on, and see what happens. (NOTE: It's not enough to simply reset the clock and wait--you'll only be testing the software clock in the operating system. By switching the 'puter off and on, you force the software clock to read the current time/date from the hardware clock on your computer's motherboard, which also has to be Y2K-compliant.)  I'm not giving details on how to do this, because if your system is not Y2K-compliant, you could be completely hosed. Could be. To be honest, I don't know what would happen if you advanced the date on a PC with a non-Y2K-compliant clock and BIOS.  If your butt's going to be in a bight if your computer's data becomes inaccessible, you'd better do this the conservative Microsoft way.

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