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10 years on from the Millennium Bug

Looking at online evolution since 'Y2K'

A decade after the non-event that was the Millennium Bug, we look back at whether the problem was blown out of proportion, or whether it wasn't as serious as expected because of the millions spent ironing out the problem in advance.

Was the Millennium Bug blown out of all proportion?

"I think people felt duped because the world was predicting a disaster," Quinn says. There were even predictions that cars would stop running because of engine clock problems, he adds.

"My recollection is that probably 70 percent of that concern turned out to be unfounded - but you had to do the research anyway. You couldn't take a chance," Aaron adds - certainly not in mission-critical environments such as financial services and health care.

He says he could not recall an actual Y2K problem that couldn't be fixed in five minutes.

"My opinion is it was a quiet day because people put the proper focus on it, did the right amount of 'due diligence', and [did] the work that needed to be done."

Chip Ahlswede, who worked for the US House of Representatives at the time checking on Y2K compliance, says it was better to be safe than unprepared.

"I think it was the preparation thing," says Ahlswede.

He's now principal at Regal Strategies, a political consulting firm. He remembers Y2K's mild impacts.

"As far as the government, there were a few systems that had glitches after the fact, but obviously no missiles were launched," Ahlswede says.

"The high publicity ensured that everyone took care of it," recalls Micro Focus' Coker.

Corporate managers were afraid of getting sued as a result of Y2K problems, he says.

Another IT official, who worked at Sun Microsystems at the time, disagrees sharply.

"I don't think that IT should look back and say, 'Hey, Y2K was successful because nothing happened,'" says Bill Roth, who is now chief marketing officer at LogLogic, which provides security and event management.

He had been a Java marketing manager at Sun Microsystems during Y2K.

"It is unlikely that anything would have happened other than people having their birth dates stated incorrectly or checks being predated by 100 years."

Although he stresses the Y2K issue was overblown, he acknowledges there were legitimate reasons to be concerned. "The problem was about poorly written, date-based mainframe applications," he explains.

"[But] the power grid stayed up, our trading system stayed up, and while a small amount of it was due to the diligence of people cleaning up Cobol code, it's unlikely that anything would have happened in any event," Roth says.

But Aaron points out potential mishaps. "You had to look at every single system assuming it was going to break," he says.

Potential existed for mishaps such as two parties sharing a financial trade and one party seeing the date wrong, voiding the trade, and creating a massive number of trade breaks among financial institutions.

"You would have wound up with customers that think they made a trade because they called in an order but the order never executed," Aaron says.

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NEXT PAGE: Two years of preparation

  1. We look at how the web has evolved since the disaster that never happened
  2. Was the Millennium Bug blown out of all proportion?
  3. Two years of preparation

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