In response to customer demand and criticism by industry analysts, the software behemoth is revamping its Year 2000 strategy by adding tools and services that will work to address six key "layers" of Y2K compliance: the BIOS/Real Time Clock, hardware, applications, documents, custom code, and data interface, the company said.
Although further details on the new Y2K plan will be announced in mid-December, Don Jones, Microsoft's Year 2000 product manager, said yesterday that the tools will come from Microsoft, its partners, and third-party tool vendors.
The company will provide the software on its Year 2000 Resource Center Web site and via CD-ROM.
In addition, for customers with limited Web access, the company has announced a toll-free number for Microsoft customers dealing with the Year 2000 technology problem: 1-888-MSFT-Y2K.
"We're not going to be able to provide tools for all layers, but we will help customers find the right tool for their needs," said Jones.
A lot of the tools will be built on top of Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS) 2.0, Jones said.
"SMS is designed for this type of thing. It features auto distribution of hot patches and fixes," he noted.
As reported earlier, final shipment of SMS 2.0, previously code-named Opal, is now scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year.
The Year 2000 problem, or the millennium bug, boils down to this: Many computer systems use software that tracks dates with only the last two numbers of the year, such as "97" instead of 1997. When "00" comes up for the year 2000, many computers will view it as 1900 instead, potentially leading to failures.
Analysts hailed the new initiatives by Microsoft, saying the changes should have been made sooner.
"They have been under some pressure to do more than just provide a list of their products," said Kazim Isfahani, an analyst at Giga Information Group . "You sort of have an obligation to provide as much help as you can when you own a majority of the software industry. This is good news for Microsoft customers."
Isfahani's colleague at Giga, senior analyst Rob Enderle, also felt the revamp of Microsoft's Y2K strategy was overdue. "It was slow in coming. It would have been better [for them to do this] a year ago," he said.
The Y2K issue exposes Microsoft and other software companies that have a huge dominance in the technology industry to almost limitless criticism and possible litigation if they don't at least appear to take the issue seriously and provide solutions for their huge customer base. "They need to do as much as possible," said Enderle. "It's better to go beyond what is expected of them to do."
In April, the software giant first launched the much-anticipated, revamped Web site and strategy dedicated to the Y2K problem, highlighting date bugs in some of its most popular products, such as Windows 95, Office 95, and Office 97.
The strategy and Web site sorts the Redmond, Washington-based software giant's products into five categories based on how compliant each is. Microsoft's definition of compliance also appears on the site. In addition, the company provides a product guide that gives the same information for Windows, Office, Back Office, and other products.
All the changes Jones outlined will be added to the ongoing Y2K program launched in April, he said.