Millennium column: Corporate X-file

I am writing this letter in response to Jen Ross’ article “Y2K conspiracy theory: The bug is a plot to boost business.”

As an information systems professional since 1980, Ms. Ross’ article reads like some kind of corporate X-File. Perhaps she is misinformed and needs to understand a number of facts about computer systems and programs developed over the past 30 years. She claims it is “hard to believe, even in the 1970s, that programmers could have innocently overlooked the possibility that computers with two-digit year codes would go haywire in 2000.”

These problems were NOT overlooked, rather they were dealing with technological constraints at the time, including the cost of resources such as memory and disk storage. In order to create large business applications, scientific applications, etc., creative programming was required to surmount this problem. The average life cycle of an application, through design and development to use and retirement was deemed to be approximately seven years. No programmer (myself included at the time) expected their code to be in use by 1990, let alone 2000.

Unfortunately, however, with various economic downturns over the past 20 years, many computer applications were kept active long past their time, often through constant modification and addition of functionality. While this was not the best method, it was considerably less expensive than the alternative. To keep the prices low enough for consumers, they had to take short cuts.

An Information Week article published in the past year or two actually assessed that the cost to acquire Y2K compliant technology and systems, over the past 20 years, would actually have cost far more than the remedial effort currently underway. Again, this does not point to a conspiracy but a financially sound assessment. True, some less than admirable manufacturers did not start producing Y2K compliant systems until recently.

This was not, however, the case for all companies. In this Ms. Ross may be correct — they were truly not unaware of the problem, and they used older, non-compliant chips to save money. This does not, however, reek of global conspiracy.

Ms. Ross may be accused of perpetuating the very same media panic she is condemning by creating an “us versus them” mentality. Again, I ask: who are they and who are us? Everywhere I turn I see articles of doom and gloom about Y2K.

What are the real facts and who knows them? Certainly people who work in the various industries do, and I can tell you that, from my perspective, her paranoia is extreme and unfounded.

I think I better call Mulder and Scully.

David Binder,

MacLaren Street