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Microsoft let off the hook in Y2K suit

A federal court in Illinois dismisses a class action lawsuit filed by software developer Ruth Kaczmarek against the software giant last December.

A federal court today dismissed a year 2000 lawsuit against Microsoft.

The federal court in Illinois dismissed a class action lawsuit, which was filed by software developer Ruth Kaczmarek against the software company in December.

As reported earlier, Kaczmarek claimed that Back to Year 2000 Index Page Microsoft manufactured and distributed database development tools, including Fox Pro 2.5 and Visual FoxPro, knowing that the software contained "latent defects in the date sensitive codes," that did not recognize the year 2000 as a new century, according to the suit.

But the suit didn't meet the federal court's standard.

In its opinion, the court said, "As we near the 21st century, the media has focused on many potential Y2K problems. This focus will inevitably lead to much litigation which the courts will need to determine is meritful or meritless. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, we find this lawsuit falls in the latter category."

The court dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning it cannot be filed again, according to Microsoft.

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

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.

Don Jones, Microsoft's Year 2000 product manager, said the FoxPro products were designed to allow developers to distinguish dates 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 a user enters 12/14/00, the product recognizes the year as 1900.

A developer can also set the "century" feature to "on" to provide a four-digit year field when a client needs an application that will process dates occurring later than December 31, 1999.

The court found that Microsoft had made it clear in the manual for FoxPro how the software handles dates, and that the plaintiff's claim was without merit.

"Kaczmarek's main problem is that there is nothing inherently wrong with computer software that assumes that a two-digit year entry means the 20th century, particularly when the default setting is disclosed as part of the contract," the court said.

Moreover, the court found FoxPro to be year 2000 compliant.

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.

Many companies aren't as lucky as Microsoft. According to figures released today by the Gartner Group, this month there were 80 Y2K related cases filed, compared to just three this time last year.