February 22, 2019

Y2K and Linux - page 3

In the Beginning...

  • January 1, 1999
  • By Lou Grinzo
We should never jump to the conclusion that a computer running Linux, or any other operating system, is completely safe though. No matter how dates are stored in the operating system itself, the applications can do whatever they want, including resorting to the original date trick that started this Y2K mess, or inventing their own bizarre system for tracking time and dates. So, what should you do?

First, you should make an inventory of your system and all the software on it, and make sure you include the version number for each program. Then you should use the web to find the home pages for the various companies and developers who created your software, and see what they say about Y2K compliance. For Linux applications, you'll almost always get good news, and can simply check each program off your list. In particular, see http://www.gnu.org/software/year2000.html and http://www.gnu.org/software/year2000-list.html for information about GNU software and the Y2k problem, as well as the Y2K status of many of their programs.

But what if you can't locate the company or individual who wrote your program? or you can, and they won't supply any Y2K help? (This is a highly litigious issue, so some companies are very hesitant to offer any useful statements at all about their products' Y2K worthiness, for fear of being sued if they're wrong.) One simple way to test is to simply set the clock ahead on your system to sometime in January of 2000 and run your system. If you do this, please take the time to make a backup of your system, particularly your data, first! Nothing is cheaper than the insurance value of a system backup.

As you test, look for how programs read stored data, such as spreadsheets or financial information, how they handle displaying dates and reading them from your typed input, and how programs interact, if you feed the output of one program to another. These are the areas that are most likely to cause problems. In some cases, a program will let you enter a year as either two or four digits, and you can avoid problems by using the four-digit version. Some programs, like the cal utility in Linux, are immune to even this input problem, and will only accept four digit dates; the command "cal 5 99" will display a calendar for May of the year 99.

If you find a problem with a program, your first recourse is to contact the creator for a remedy. If that fails, then you have to find a replacement program, decide to do without that program entirely, or find a way to run with your computer's system clock set back a few years until you can find a more permanent solution. None of these are ideal answers, but it's better to know about a Y2K problem in advance than to be surprised by a malfunctioning system. Of course, this is all just a discussion of the software part of Y2K. There are also some problems with the BIOS and/or RTC (real-time clock) chip in some computers. Again, your best bet is to contact the manufacturer of your computer as soon as possible and find out what they have to say about your system.

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