The year-2000 bug will cost governments and corporations billions of dollars to remedy, but it need not cost you anything to fix it on your home computer. That's the good news--your late-night solitaire games are safe! The bad news is, you'll still have to pay a cost--in time spent poking through too many tech-support Web sites.
For those of you that have been in a sensory depravation chamber for the past few months, the millennium bug can occur as the real-time clock in PCs rolls over from 11:59 p.m. to midnight on New Year's Eve. (The Mac OS is immune to this problem, but many Mac programs aren't.) Windows computers using the "short date format," in which the two digits are used to represent the year, will see dates following 01/01/00 as 1980 instead of 2000. (Windows assumes that it couldn't possibly be running any earlier than four years before it debuted; on other computers, 01/01/00 may be interpreted as Jan. 1, 1900.) Many applications may not know what to do when they receive this puzzling date information from the rest of the computer; errant calculations, misleading feedback and outright crashes can result.
A home user has different options at hand to squash the Y2K bug. Depending on where you shop, some of them can cost a fair amount of money--but unless you're running some program that your life, or your bank balance, depends on, keep the credit cards holstered. There are enough free options out there.
One (possibly heretical) option is to do nothing. If the computer is only used to run Minesweeper and write a letter a week to Grandma, the computer's perception of the date is its own problem, not yours. In other cases, though, this approach becomes a gamble. Even on a modern system, date-sensitive programs, such as e-mail or personal-finance software, might fail.
A second option is to reset the system clock on New Year's Day, then compute as before. This should work in many cases, but you should make sure that the computer doesn't revert back to 1980 when you turn it off.
A third approach is to test your system ahead of time. NSTL, a software-testing laboratory, publishes YMark2000, a widely recommended, free utility to test PCs for Y2K bugs; visit http://www.nstl.com to download it. Numerous Y2K test-and-fix programs are on sale as well, and the popular utility suites all bundle some sort of Y2K tools of their own.
If you detect a problem with any of these tools, check with your PC's manufacturer before buying any repair program. In most cases, you should be able to download or order a utility that will fix the problem by updating the machine's BIOS, or Basic Input Output System. The BIOS chip, the first thing a computer activates when you turn it on, prepares the system for further operation by looking through its own tiny stash of memory for such system-wide parameters as the date.
Below, we list year-2000 compatibility information for a variety of hardware and software manufacturers.
In most cases, a download or a small repair utility should fix the problem, keeping your Solitaire game safe for all eternity.
* Acer: Reports that any system with BIOS version 3.0 is fine; older (but post-1996) versions should also be fine with some exceptions. See http://www.acer.com.tw/service/y2k/
* Apple: Current versions of the Mac OS handle dates up to the year 29,940. See http://www.apple.com/about/year2000.
* Compaq: Warrants that all computers purchased on or after Oct. 7, 1997 are compliant. See http://www.compaq.com/year2000.
* Dell: Reports some problems with older Dimension XPS systems, fixable with a BIOS update. See http://www.dell.com/y2k.
* Gateway: Reports that all computers "introduced and sold" after Jan. 1, 1997 are compliant. See http://www.gateway.com/year2000.
* Hewlett-Packard: Reports that all Pavilion home computers are compliant. See http://www.hppavilion.com/y2k.
* IBM: Check your computer (make sure you know its model number) at http://www.ibm.com/ibm/year2000/.
* America Online: AOL 5.0 is compliant. 4.0 will be if run with the latest Web browser software. See keyword: Y2K.
* Claris: ClarisWorks 5.0 and AppleWorks 5.0 are both compliant. See http://www.apple.com/about/year2000.
* Corel: WordPerfect 2000, 9 and 8 are compliant; previous versions have "minor issues." See http://www.corel.com/year2000/
* Intuit: Offering free copies of Quicken Deluxe 98 for Windows or Mac, via download or in the mail, to customers with older, non-compliant versions. See http://www.intuit.com/y2k.
* Microsoft: The company maintains an exhaustive site on year-2000 issues at http://www.microsoft.com/y2k/; it also offers a free utility at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/year2k/pca/pca.htm that will scan Microsoft products on your system for any Y2K issues. Here's what the company says about some of its more popular software:
Windows 3.1: Compliant with minor display and interface issues.
Windows 95: Compliant, depending on which version of Internet Explorer is installed.
Windows 98: Requires a free update.
Excel: Excel 2000 is compliant; Excel 95 and 97 require updates.
Internet Explorer: IE 5 is compliant; versions 3 through 4 require patches.
Money: Money 98 and 2000, plus versions 1 through 5, are compliant; Money 99 requires a free update.
Outlook: Outlook 2000 is compliant; earlier versions require updates.
Word: Word 2000 is compliant. Word 97 and 95 require patches. Word 6 will work but may experience some problems with a two-digit year format.
Works: Works 2000 is compliant; Works 4.5 and previous versions require a free update.
* Netscape: Netscape Navigator versions 2.02 and up are compliant; users with older versions need to upgrade. See http://www.netscape.com/y2k.
* Qualcomm: All versions of Eudora Light and Eudora Pro are compliant. See http://www.eudora.com