The bug appears when the Windows 98 operating system is rebooted at a time between 23:59 and 00:00, causing Windows to either leap forward two days or fall behind a day, depending on when the computer is rebooted. Although Microsoft originally claimed the problem could only occur on December 31, the company confirmed today that the problem can actually occur on any day of the year. That is, if the computer is rebooted during that small window of time on any day, the computer's calendar will be thrown off.
The problem can be alleviated by manually resetting the date function on the task bar, but Microsoft will be making a fix available via the Windows Update site, said Windows group product manager Kim Akers.
The bug was discovered in England by Year 2000 compliance firm Prove It 2000. But Microsoft is stressing that the problem is not Year 2000 related. However, the bug could cause problems for Windows 98 computers running financial applications or other date-reliant software applications.
"Even though we haven't seen any customers that have experienced this problem, we will be providing a fix," Akers said, in addition to the "really simple work-around."
Akers added that "it's really important to remember that it's not a Year 2000 issue; Windows 98 is Y2K compliant," Akers said. "In order to experience this, you have to be booting your machine in the exact fraction of a second when the machine is rolling the date over, and that fraction of a second varies from machine to machine."
"It took us four days of tests to reproduce the problem," David Weeks, Microsoft UK's Windows 98 product manager, said.
Although Microsoft estimates that this particular bug is only of concern to one in 6 million Windows 98 users, industry analysts argue that because Microsoft's products are on so many desktops, even very rare bugs are important to publicize.
"When you hold the vast majority of desktops, people treat you like a utility," said Dataquest analyst Chris Letocq. "You're held to a higher standard. People expect it to work."
Launched on June 25, Windows 98 has already come under fire because of problematic upgrade experiences on older machines, and rumors of an imminent update with bug fixes have been rampant. Microsoft recently confirmed that an upcoming multimedia update was originally planned as a service pack.
Despite these issues, this is the first actual bug specific to Windows 98 code, Akers said.
Reuters contributed to this report.