The countdown to the new century has everyone worried about computers at work, at the bank and even at the local power company. But what about your home computer? Have you prepared it for the year 2000?
"In 99 percent of the cases, the worst thing that's going to happen to your home computer is your new files will have 1900 dates attached to them," said Bill Blum, a computer specialist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"If your date doesn't roll over to the year 2000," Blum said, "it will most likely roll back to 1900 or 1960, the year IBM first programmed into its computers."
The Oldest Are the Newest
This will be most annoying to those who organize their data files by date. "If your computer rolls back to 1900, your newest files will show up as your oldest," he said.
Either way, if your computer is set up to record dates in a two-digit format (MM/DD/YY), when the new year arrives, the last two digits will most likely become zeros. You can correct that by opening "Start," then "Settings," then "Control Panel," then "Regional Settings" and finally "Date Settings," where you can select a four-digit year setting (MM/DD/YYYY).
If you just can't wait to see if your computer settings will roll over to the year 2000, Blum said there's an easy way to trick your computer into thinking the new year has arrived.
"At the DOS prompt, type 'date' and enter 12/31/1999," he said. "Then type 'time' and enter 23:59:00 (military time). Wait a minute and type 'date' command again. If it reads 01/01/2000, you're Y2K ready."
Mac Users Are Hardware Worry Free
Blum said MacIntosh computer owners have a Y2K advantage. "MacIntosh operating systems have been ready for Y2K for the past eight years," he said.
Owners of computers running DOS or Windows 3.1 may not be so lucky. If your computer is three to five years old, Blum suggests checking with the manufacturer on possible Y2K glitches in your system.
"Most of the manufacturers have created Web sites with this information," he said. Blum and his UGA colleagues have created a Web site, www.uga.edu/caesoit/y2k/ , which links to the major computer manufacturers.
"If your personal computer was a recent purchase, you should automatically be ready for the new year," Blum said.
Don't Forget to Check Your Software
Once you've decided your computer hardware is ready for Y2K, you need to check out your software or programs.
"If you're uncertain about your software, contact the manufacturer," he said. "Most software manufacturers have Y2K information available on their Web sites as well."
Even if you're not worried about Y2K harming your computer system, Blum said it's a good practice to back up your computer's data files often.
"You should have all your original program files on CDs or disks. But what about your data files?" he said. "It's a good idea to copy your data files to a floppy disk. This guarantees you have a copy of your personal data files should your system ever crash."
Backup System Frequently
You should have backup files of two important system files, too. "Under the root or 'C' directory, look for the files 'auto.exec.bat' and 'config.sys,'" Blum said. "These are system-related files that are used when your computer boots up. Make copies of these two files as well as your data files from all your software programs."
Blum recommends backing up your data files once a month if you use your computer for hobby/home education and once a week if you use it for a home-based business.
"When deciding whether to back up certain files," he said, "think about how critical the information is to you and what you'd have to do to replace it. Y2K or not, backing up your computer data files is just good hard-disk management."
(Photo by Sharon Omahen, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)