REDMOND, Wash., June 1, 1999 — With only six months to go before the new millennium begins, many consumers are thinking more about how the “Y2K problem” may affect businesses they depend on than they are about potential effects on their home computers.
Take Sara King, for example. A planner for an urban consulting firm in Portland, Ore., King says she plans to track her banking and financial records around the new year to ensure no discrepancies occur when the clock rolls over to the Year 2000. But she admits she hasn’t thought about updating her home PC. “I haven’t thought about the implications beyond money and travel,” she said. “I haven’t thought about my computer at all. Does that mean I’m in denial?”
Brandon Griggs, a staff writer for the Salt Lake City Tribune in Utah, says he will think twice about hopping on a plane the morning of Jan. 1, 2000. But he has yet to consider how Y2K could affect his home computer. “I have no idea how to Y2K-proof my home computer. I hadn’t even thought about that,” he said. “But as a writer, I have a lot of important files on my hard drive and I would hate to lose them.”
Like King and Griggs, few consumers seem to be thinking about how to prepare their home PCs for the Year 2000. A March Gallup telephone survey of 1,021 adults found that 28 percent of Americans plan to prepare for the Y2K issue by stockpiling household supplies such as food and water, and 20 percent plan to have more cash on hand or to closely monitor their financial records. By comparison, only 4 percent plan to update their home computers.
“Most consumers are aware of the issue, but they have not really awakened to what they need to do to update their personal computers,” said Mark Light, Year 2000 Product Manager at Microsoft.
To help people assess and prepare their home PCs for the Year 2000, Microsoft recently launched a new Y2K Web site specifically aimed at consumers. The Web site is intended to provide home-PC users with the simple information they need to assess the Year 2000 readiness of their home PCs. The site is located at http://computingcentral.MSN.com/
guide/year2000/msy2k/Introducing/y2khome.asp , together with Microsoft’s Y2K site for information technology (IT) professionals.
The consumer Web site will be translated into nearly 30 languages, just as the IT Professional Web site is today. It will include an easy-to-understand product guide that describes how most Microsoft software applications handle dates, as well as information regarding what action, if any, consumers need to take to prepare their applications for the Year 2000. The Web site also allows users to download the “Microsoft Year 2000 Product Analyzer,” , which automatically scans a user’s hard drive and determines what Microsoft products are on the computer. The product analyzer then generates a report telling users the compliance status of their system. It also provides online access to Year 2000 software updates, if needed.
For those who prefer to have information mailed to them, Microsoft is offering a subscription to a free “Year 2000 Resource CD.” The CD, which is available in 14 languages, includes the Microsoft Year 2000 Product Analyzer. It also includes the necessary Year 2000 updates for Microsoft’s most popular products as well as white papers and other information about the Year 2000 issue.
“We’ve designed the new Web site, Resource CD and product analyzer to make them easy for someone with a non-technical background to use,” Light said. “The idea is to make the experience of updating one’s home PC as simple as possible.”
In general, Light said, consumers need to take a three-step approach to assure themselves that their home PCs will function properly beyond Dec. 31. The process involves assessing their home PCs and possibly updating their hardware, software and data .
First, consumers should obtain information from their computer manufacturer to determine if they need to update their hardware. Microsoft’s Year 2000 Web sites provide links to the Hardware PC Alliance, which serves as a portal to the Web sites of most PC manufacturers. The key hardware issue is how the computer’s real-time clock and BIOS behave after they roll over to 2000, Light said. In most cases, the computer will continue to display dates correctly, and consumers will not have to take action. In some cases, however, users may have to make a one-time clock update or install an updated BIOS for the computer to continue operating properly.
Second, consumers need to assess their software, including their operating system and any applications they use. If not already compliant, Microsoft has provided software updates to its major products to make them complaint, so with most products the worst case scenario is that people will have to install a software update, Light said. “We don’t want the Year 2000 to be a reason to upgrade,” he said. “If someone wants to upgrade their software for functional reasons, that’s fine. But we didn’t want the Year 2000 to be the impetus.”
Third, consumers need to evaluate their data to ensure files they have created contain unambiguous dates that will continue to be interpreted properly after Dec. 31. One thing consumers should do is change the “regional settings” in their control panel to use a “short-date format” that displays a four-digit year (mm/dd/yyyy) as opposed to a two-digit year (mm/dd/yy). “By moving the date format in the regional settings to a four-digit year, the person will see how the operating system or application is interpreting the date when they type in a two-date shortcut,” Light said. “For example, if they enter 29 for 1929, they’ll notice if the computer misinterprets the date as 2029, and they’ll be able to say, ‘Wait a minute. That isn’t what I meant.’ ”
Furthermore, if home-PC owners have software applications that rely heavily on dates, they may want to install special tools to ensure these applications continue to manage dates optimally after the first of the year. “For Excel, as an example, we offer a Data Fix Wizard, a Data Migration Wizard and a Data Watch Wizard that essentially let you analyze spreadsheet dates to make sure the shortcut interpretations are what you want them to be,” Light said.
This three-step approach to assessing and preparing one’s home PC for the Year 2000 is explained on the Y2K Consumer Web site using simple language. The approach is also outlined in documents included with the Y2K Resource CD.
To date, Microsoft’s Y2K IT Professional Web site has answered most enterprise questions about the Year 2000 and Microsoft’s products. The launch of the Consumer Y2K Web site is intended to help consumers in just the same way. For customers without access to the Web, Microsoft offers a toll free information line at 888-MSFT-Y2K, where people can either request that information be mailed to them or sign up for the Resource CD.
The implications of ignoring the Y2K problem are not likely to be as serious for consumers as for businesses, Light said. “Most consumers will not see problems,” he said. “However, if they’re running spreadsheets, or if they have any information that is date sensitive and they care about it, they need to use the three-step process to assess and prepare their personal computer’s hardware, software and data.”
Consumers say they look forward to using Microsoft’s Y2K resources to help them figure out what they need to fix and how to fix it. “It will probably alert me to things I don’t even know about,” said King, the Portland PC owner. “In general, people only prepare for the things they’re aware of, so I’m sure it will be very helpful.”
“I think it will be very helpful because I know there are things I need to address, but I don’t have the motivation or skills to address them,” said Jim Cruise, a research analyst in Richmond, Vt. “A CD is easy to install, so that should help me assess the problem.”