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Microsoft hit with Y2K compliance suit

Redmond gets caught in the growing litigation storm surrounding the Year 2000 technology problem, as the software giant is sued by a developer over Y2K compliance issues.

    Microsoft has gotten caught in the growing litigation storm surrounding the Year 2000 technology problem.

    The software giant is being sued by software developer Ruth H. Kaczmarek, who claims that Microsoft knowingly shipped tools that were not Y2K compliant.

    Kaczmarek claims that Microsoft manufactured and distributed database development tools Fox Pro 2.5, which shipped in 1993, and Visual FoxPro, which shipped in 1995, knowing that there were "latent defects in the date sensitive codes," that did not recognize year 2000 as a new century, according to the suit.

    The suit is the first filed against the Redmond, Washington-based software company for Y2K noncompliance issues, both Microsoft and Kaczmarek's attorneys said.

    Kaczmarek is seeking compensation and punitive damages in the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

    The case comes just weeks after Microsoft announced a revamping of its Year 2000 product strategy, which includes new tools, services, and support to assist customers dealing with the Y2K glitch.

    The Year 2000 glitch can cause computers to read the year 2000 as 1900, since most older computers were programmed to read a two-digit year date. That bug could cause machines to either crash or transmit bad information.

    "We haven't been served yet, but we have been notified about the case," said Don Jones, Microsoft's Year 2000 product manager.

    He said the FoxPro products were designed to allow developers to distinguish dates within the developing environment in two different ways. One way allows the developer to enter dates in a two-digit format within a field under the Century Off function. Under that function, the program only recognizes a date in the 20th century. So, if one enters 12/14/00, the product recognizes the year as 1900.

    Back to Year 2000 Index Page In the Century On function, developers can enter year dates in a four-digit format, so the product will recognize the year 1900 or 2000.

    However, in her suit, Kaczmarek claims that when two digits are entered for a year in the 21st century, the entry is stored and processed as a 20th century date. She is asking that Microsoft provide users of FoxPro and Visual FoxPro with notice of the problem and a software patch to remedy it. She is also seeking a class-action status for the suit.

    Don Jones said notice of the two ways to enter dates and how the product would recognize the dates have been provided in the product's paperwork since 1992. "The net of this is we urge all developers to check all, not just Microsoft's,...products for compliance."

    Microsoft lawyers have not received the lawsuit yet, so Jones was not prepared to talk about case specifics.

    Corporate executives have expressed fear that they will be engulfed in multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuits spawned by financial losses from malfunctioning computers, broken contracts, and product liability issues caused by computers' incompatibility with dates in the new millennium.

    Chicago-based law firm Gold and Rosenfeld and Massachusetts-based law firm Gogel, Phillips and Garcia LLP filed the lawsuit on behalf of Kaczmarek.