In 2000, the calendar
is headed for disaster

Before the two-digit catastrophe of the next
century, run a test on your computer


Unless you've been visiting a planet in a far off galaxy, you've probably read about the "year 2000" computer problem.

Basically, older computer programming languages, to keep things simple, expressed calendar years by only using two digits.

This, of course, meant nothing in the '50s, '60s or '70s, but as you've already guessed, it means disaster in '00.

Of course, your computer will now not know whether you are talking about 1900 or 2000, or in fact any dates in the 21st century!

Imagine what this kind of technology event is going to do to your time and billing systems, calendar and docket systems or any system that you currently have running that relies on accurate dates.

Fortunately, most Intel and Motorola (PC and Mac) based computers use a four-digit number to show dates.

But wait -- there's more bad news: Even computers that can manage four digits for a date won't necessarily be able to handle the change to the next century either.

I just ran the following test on one of our office 486/33 computers running Windows 95 and got a disastrous result.

Steps for testing

Here are step-by-step instructions for testing your computer for this problem:

When I reset the clock in an older 486/33 which has been a favorite in the office, the result I got was: "1-1-80"!

Chip failure

This terrible result is not the fault of any software that you are running, nor is it the fault of the operating system itself. It is, in fact, a failure of the computer BIOS (Basic Input Output System) chip that is in every machine. These BIOS chips are made by two or three companies in the U.S. and every manufacturer uses them on their motherboards.

So what do you do if this happens? It's not likely that you will be able to change the BIOS chip at this late date. Those chips are generally made for a specific motherboard, and if the board is no longer made, it's very hard to get a new BIOS chip at this late date.

On the other hand, I'm not going to advise you to defenestrate your favorite (and maybe only) computer too quickly. I'll wager that there will be a BIOS software patch before too long that will fix this problem.

Tie a string around your BIOS chip and stay tuned!

Martin Dean is a San Francisco attorney and president of Essential Publishers, the makers of Essential Forms and Essential Attorneys. He can be reached only by e-mail at