With little time to spare before the turn of the century, a group of major PC makers have teamed to roll out a Year 2000 compliance specification for consumers and small businesses.
With just seven months to go until 2000, the PC Y2K Alliance will unveil a Web site on Monday that outlines in simple language what the Year 2000 technology problem is and how to fix it. The site will also offer access to testing tools and links to alliance members' individual Y2K Web sites.
Analysts welcomed the gesture by the companies, but questioned how much of an impact the project would make with such a short time before the date change.
"I would have preferred it a year ago," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group. "This will at least give users access to information on how to become Y2K compliant."
The cornerstone of the Alliance's effort is "The Year 2000 Personal Computer Compliance Specification." It is open to public comment for 30 days and feedback on the specification can be sent to the Alliance over the Web site.
The nine member group of hardware companies includes Compaq, Dell, IBM, Gateway, Acer, Toshiba, Phoenix Technologies, and America Mega Trends.
The Alliance will consider all comments submitted within this 30-day period and will amend the specification if necessary. A final version will be posted on the Alliance Web site and members Year 2000 Web sites in mid-June.
A late start?
Dave Cunningham, Y2K program manager for Dell, said that the late start in getting the alliance up and running had to do with concerns about antitrust laws.
Yet the passage in November of the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act, intended to promote information sharing on how to best battle the Y2K bug, allowed the group to organize free of any antitrust concerns and decide on compliance specifications, Cunningham said.
Microsoft, National Software Testing Laboratories (NSTL) and Symantec also support this effort. Intel has been involved in the Alliance effort and continues to participate, according to alliance members.
"We're here to offer one resource for small businesses and individual users to get information on the Year 2000 technology problem, a definition of what compliance is, and how the Y2K problem may impact them," said John Archer, the group's chair and director of strategic marketing at Phoenix.
Archer said the group was formed in response to what all of the member companies found to be widespread confusion among their users about the Year 2000 technology problem.
"There was obvious confusion of what compliance means and what a customer is supposed to do to become compliant," Archer said.
The group's specification defines two levels of PC hardware readiness: compliant or operational. "Compliant" means that the computer's BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) services will correctly and automatically display the appropriate century as the date advances from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000.
A Year 2000 "operational" PC requires a one-time manual user update to become Year 2000 compliant, as defined in the Alliance's specifications. By these definitions, most PCs bought today are Year 2000 compliant.
"Our main goal is to make it easier for people who don't have computers on the forefront of their minds to access information on how to prepare for the Year 2000," said Archer.
The Year 2000 problem, also known as the millennium bug, stems from an old programming shortcut that used only the last two digits of the year. Many computers now must be modified or they may mistake the year 2000 for the year 1900 and may not be able to function at all, observers warn.