ATLANTA -- Half the fun of owning a computer is finding a harmless outlet for all your fears.
The possibilities are endless and help distract you from the real worries of everyday life most humans have. Instead of fretting about your job or personal life, you can select from a menu-of-fear that includes computer viruses, Internet hackers and figuring the right time to buy a new PC.
So, instead of cursing the year 2000 problem, thank your lucky stars that you're guaranteed two more years of confusing and contradictory advice about how to survive in the new millennium.
For those who don't know, the year 2000 bug is the result of an outdated computer programming practice of referring to the year in a program with the last two digits. So, 1946 would be written as 46.
As we get closer to 2000, it's more likely that a date such as 02 will really mean 2002, but the computer will interpret it as 1902. All this wrong data can do everything from just confusing a computer to, in some cases, actually damaging data files.
Now here's where the contradictory information comes along. In the beginning, most experts said the year 2000 problem was confined to mainframe computers. Personal computer users were told that they did not need to worry.
But that hasn't held true. While the hardest hit by the bug will be business and government users relying on antiquated programs written for mainframe computers, personal computer owners also will be affected. It's not difficult to prove.
Just go to Microsoft's official site on the Web (www.micro-soft.com) and you can read about the damage the bug will do to various Microsoft programs, including Windows 95. And other commercial programs will be affected, along with the hardware on some older personal computers.
So what should you do about this? Before I tell you what to do, let me suggest something not to do. Don't experiment with your PC by setting the date ahead to 2001 or so to see what happens. Odds are you'd be fine, but there are several bad things that can happen. And if you have some out-of-date software or a 2000-ignorant BIOS - basic input/output instructions - you can scramble data on your machine.
Now that you know what not to do, let's start with our to-do list.
First, use this excuse as a reason to begin making backups of your data. If the worst does happen, you will have developed the habit of keeping a backup copy of your data. That way, if some program or file is damaged on your computer, you'll have a copy of that irreplaceable information.
Second, as you buy new software, make sure you look for this notation on the box: year 2000 compliant. Almost any new software will be designed to eliminate the year 2000 problem, but because old software stays on shelves for a while, it's smart to check.
Third, if you have an older Pentium or 80486 computer, check with the manufacturer to see whether the chip that holds the BIOS can be updated. Some of these chips are flawed when it comes to the year 2000, and some manufacturers have replacements. Because this is a chip problem, your computer could be vulnerable even if all your software is up-to-date.
Pub Date: 5/25/98