The remedy many businesses are using to fix the year-2000 computer glitch isn’t a permanent solution.
But it has helped companies put off dealing with the technology problem.
About 90 percent of companies are tricking computers into working past Dec. 31 by using a procedure called “windowing,” according to an estimate from Giga Information Group, a technology research firm in Cambridge, Mass.
Windowing is a good short-term fix, but it could mean companies face another year-2000 problem later, said James Grady, associate analyst at Giga Information Group.
“The biggest potential downfall is that if you’re using systems past the windowing date, then you face a year-2000 problem all over again,” Mr. Grady said.
Businesses and organizations can fix the year-2000 problem two ways.
One is by extending the date field from two to four digits.
The year-2000 computer problem stems from a cost-saving shortcut years ago in which software programmers devoted only two spaces in a date field to designate the year. That older software assumes the year always will begin with the digits “19.”
If technicians don’t reprogram affected systems and replace calendar-sensitive computer chips embedded some equipment they could shut down or malfunction when they “read” the digits “00” as meaning 1900 and not 2000.
The second way to make computers work past Dec. 31 is to use windowing.
This extends a software program’s ability to recognize dates within a certain range. It lets a computer keep a two-digit date field and change the value placed on numbers in the field. Programmers essentially instruct software to interpret digits as 21st-century dates or 20th-century dates.
“Because of that, windowing is very popular,” said Bill Schlondorn, president of San Jose, Calif., year-2000 consultant Blue Moon Consulting.
Windowing can be a short-term solution, but it also can let a company develop a 100-year window from 1996 to 2095, for instance, if it needs to record future dates.
Programmers say the important thing about windowing is a “pivot year” written into software.
If the pivot year is 50, any number that is entered in the two-digit field that is less than 50 is assumed to be a 21st-century date. Years entered as 00 to 49 would be the years from 2000 to 2049.
Any number higher than 50 is assumed to begin with a “19” and be a 20th-century date, and years entered as 51 to 99 are assumed to be the years from 1951 to 1999.
Most companies using windowing prefer to use a 100-year window, William Cray said.
Companies seeking a year-2000 computer fix can pick any pivot year they want, a decision typically driven by the age of information in their databases.
Because windowing is quicker and less expensive than increasing a date field to four digits, many companies have used the procedure, said John Giordano, president of Westborough, Mass.-based information technology company Peritus Software Services, which offers windowing as a year-2000 remedy.
“I would say the preponderance of companies use windowing,” he said.
But windowing doesn’t solve potential year-2000 problems forever, it only delays the need to deal with them.
“It gives companies the ability to buy some time,” Mr. Schlondorn said.
Quickly changing technology may mean companies using windowing don’t have to worry about the year-2000 problem coming back, Mr. Grady said.
“If you give yourself a window of 40 or 50 years, it’s unlikely the year-2000 problem will creep up again. I can’t imagine companies will be using the same software then that they are using now,” he said.
In addition to being popular, windowing also is the source of a patent dispute.
Bruce Dickens, a 49-year old computer programmer developed the patent in 1995 while working for aerospace company McDonnell Douglas Corp., now part of Boeing Corp., and bought it from his employer for $10,000 in April 1999.
Mr. Dickens says companies that used the software technique he patented, which is a form of windowing, didn’t pay him for use of the method.
“We believe a lot of companies are using a date reformatting that the patent talks about,” said Mr. Cray, Mr. Dickens’ attorney.
Because windowing is common, Mr. Dickens may have difficulty defending his patent, critics say.
“It’s common and it was used before [Mr. Dickens] came along,” Mr. Giordano said.
Mr. Dickens, who works in Huntington Beach, Calif., and his lawyer have sent letters to an estimated 700 companies they think are using the patented year-2000 fix. Only about 25 companies of the 700 contacted have responded.
Mr. Dickens wants payments made to him to equal a percentage of company revenue, and prices will increase 100 times in the new year, Mr. Cray said.<