Year 2000 advice? If it ain't broke...

Year 2000 quick-fix software isn't flying off the shelves quite as quickly as some of its makers may have hoped.

Kim Girard
Kim Girard has written about business and technology for more than a decade, as an editor at CNET News.com, senior writer at Business 2.0 magazine and online writer at Red Herring. As a freelancer, she's written for publications including Fast Company, CIO and Berkeley's Haas School of Business. She also assisted Business Week's Peter Burrows with his 2003 book Backfire, which covered the travails of controversial Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. An avid cook, she's blogged about the joy of cheap wine and thinks about food most days in ways some find obsessive.
Kim Girard
4 min read
Year 2000 quick-fix software isn't flying off the shelves quite as quickly as some of its makers may have hoped.

Several years ago, an entire cottage industry was built around a host of products and services that preyed on consumer fear of the Year 2000 bug. But while big business scrambles to finish Y2K fixes, consumers seem relatively carefree when it comes to their own PCs.

Although much of the software is reasonably priced and readily Year 2000: The cost of fear available at most computer superstores and on the Web, industry observers say demand has been weak, and consumers have proven a disappointing crop of buyers.

Nonetheless, as the millennium looms, software makers have stepped up their advertising blitzes to try to boost sales within the retail market, which for many has turned out to be a profit flop.

"For the most part, the demand for Y2K has really lagged in the consumer and small business market," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group. "They don't tend to invest in products to fix tomorrow's problems."

Companies selling these software products range from industry leaders, including Symantec and Network Associates, to smaller, unknown companies such as Millenia Group and SecureNet, which developed software that promises to make personal computers Year 2000 compliant.

Most of the software products, which cost anywhere from $19 to $49, offer a simple way for users to identify Year 2000-related problems, or "bugs," in a PC, scanning the hardware, desktop, and files. For example, Symantec's product, Norton 2000, checks a PC's hardware and software, as well as the basic input-output system, to rid the computer of all date-related problems.

CNET News.com TV interviews John Koskinen, chair of the President's Council on Y2K Conversion, on the hype issue 
John Koskinen
"The software companies are not going to make a killing [in this market]," said Tom Oleson, an analyst at International Data Corporation. "It's a modest income [for these vendors] primarily because a lot of end users and consumers at home are willing to take the risk of letting things go and seeing what happens."

The market for sales of Y2K-related software is led by Symantec, U.K.-based Greenwich Mean Time, Network Associates, Intelliquis, and Micro Star, according to PC Data, which tracks computer industry sales.

From January through August of this year, PC Data said Symantec reported $4.3 million in sales of its Norton2000 project, a fraction of overall revenues for the company, which is known for its antivirus software. Placing second with $1.6 million in sales was Greenwich Mean Time, which teamed with Novell on its consumer retail software product called Check2000. Although Network Associates sold more software than Greenwich Mean Time, the company made about $1.2 million off its Y2K Survival Kit.

Analysts said see special report: Are we ready for Y2K? larger corporations were first to tackle the Y2K issue by hiring consultants early and buying software to ensure that the bug didn't cripple their computer systems. Consumers have been slower to the game--leading some software makers to use last-ditch marketing efforts to purge their stockrooms and make a buck.

Kazim Isfahani, an analyst at Giga Information Group, said many consumers rely solely on basic Microsoft applications and Internet access. For that, he said, users know they can go to Microsoft's Web site and download a free fix, if needed. Others will simply ignore the problem. He added that some of the Y2K software products are made by unknown companies who have established no level of trust with consumers.

"I certainly don't see this stuff flying off the shelves," said Isfahani. "A lot of these companies For the most part, the demand for Y2K has really lagged in the consumer and small business market.  They don't tend to invest in products to fix tomorrow's problems.are playing on the fear. If it's going to sell, it'll probably sell in the last week of December."

Indeed, the Federal Trade Commission this month issued a consumer alert warning of "scam artists taking advantage" of small-business owners and consumers by billing for services not delivered. "Don't be fooled by nondescript computer service company names with a Silicon Valley address," the agency warned.

Giga's Enderle said consumers tend to avoid buying fix-it products until a problem has occurred. Enderle said the Year 2000 problem could be "fairly serious" for computer users with older equipment that could be rendered unusable in January if data is corrupted on their machines.

"A lot of end users, consumers at home, are willing to take the risk of letting things go and seeing what happens," IDC's Oleson added. "The reason for that is a lot of people are using [a PC] for games, surfing the Net, and word processing, and they're not that concerned."

For those who are concerned, there is not one easy software fix, said Dan'l Leviton, software architect at Symantec. He said the company's product, Norton 2000, isn't a quick fix, but a tool that helps a user deal with issues that crop up during the date change.

"Our product identifies issues that you will have to understand and mediate, but automatically fixing it is impossible," he said, challenging claims by competitors who say the software will solve all Y2K problems.

Leviton said the company expects to do "very well" this quarter in retail sales. "We always expect things to start slow and ramp up, especially in retail," he said. 

Go to: Not rocket science