Y2K Bug Makes a Getaway

by David G. Propson

Conventional wisdom says that the Y2K doomsday was a dud. But that doesn’t mean no problems popped up. Many businesses have been reluctant to go public with information about the existence or extent of any Y2K problems, but the horror stories of some suggest businesses were right to heed the doomsayers:

Even before the rollover, it was clear the blame game would be a big part of the Y2K problem. As early as October, Sage U.S., the maker of the popular Timeslips time and billing software, had settled a class action lawsuit brought against it. The plaintiffs charged that Sage misrepresented the software’s level of compliance. They also said it refused to provide a free fix and instead required users to purchase new software. Sage now offers free, compliant software and is refunding money to those that paid for it, but says it cannot comment further.

Some programs that received Y2K patches contain new bugs, and even products written to be Y2K-compliant had problems interfacing with other systems. Customers of Chevy Chase Bank in Maryland found that versions of Intuit’s Y2K-compliant Quicken 99 and 2000 misread this year’s dates as “1900” when they imported transaction records from their online banking system. In new versions, it seems, Intuit changed the way it dealt with certain file formats. The bank says it was never informed.

“It was Intuit’s responsibility to test the product, not ours,” says Amy Hermann, a bank spokesperson. “The bank fully tested its systems.” But according to Holly Anderson at Intuit, the company did everything it could. “We worked with a number of banks, both before and after,” she says. “We don’t have a way to know what systems everyone is using.” Affected users have to wonder, if everyone’s compliant, how did anything go wrong?

The confusion was worst when both businesses and their customers were affected by glitches. A flaw in non-compliant versions of CyberCash’s ICVerify software, which processes credit card transactions, disrupted some retail businesses. The software posted transactions repeatedly, resulting in exorbitant charges for unfortunate customers.

Seanet, a Seattle Internet Service Provider, discovered the problem a few days into 2000, when customers complained. “We billed some people six times,” says Dick Campbell, Seanet’s general manager. “But it’s hard to explain to our customers because they don’t understand it’s not our fault.” The software maker and credit card companies have worked to refund customers’ money, but CyberCash insists it was not at fault.

“We’ve had compliant software available since spring 1999,” according to a spokesperson. “It was up to them to download it.” Campbell, for his part, says Seanet did update the software. “My biggest disappointment is CyberCash’s insistence that we didn’t try,” Campbell says. “We’re an ISP ­ we shouldn’t overlook making our systems compliant.”

Still think Y2K was a dud? Just be thankful you dodged the bullet.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.
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