01/01/00: Are You Ready?
It has become almost impossible to avoid articles about the year 2000 issue recently,
including possibly dire predictions (elevators will stop working because they think they
haven't been serviced in 100 years...). Year 2000 is certainly a serious problem for major
companies: in early 1998, American Express was renewing credit cards for only one year
instead of the usual three years so as not to have any expiration date later than 1999.
The Basic Problem
The basic problem is that programs which use a two-digit
date (including the clock on your PC) expect the first two digits to be "19."
When they get to 2000 and beyond, they do not know what to do and the results are
unpredictable: does 1/1/00 refer to 1900 or 2000? The only real solution to this is to
convert to using 4 digit years in everything you do (spreadsheets, calendar items, etc.).
Year 2000 problems exist for both software and hardware products. Even if your system is
problem-free, you could be affected by documents or files from other firms or clients. The
main question to ask at every point is: how will this affect my practice?
For small to medium size firms, the main software likely
to be affected is time and billing software and possibly document management programs.
Versions of pro-grams released in the last year or two are likely to be 2000 compliant or
have patches available to make them compliant. Earlier programs (especially DOS) probably
will not be. The bottom line here is that you are may need to upgrade older versions of
time and billing software within the next year. In addition, Windows 95 needs an upgrade
(which can be downloaded from Microsoft) in order to be year 2000 compliant.
If you are using a document manage-ment system such as
PCDocs that uses an SQL database, this issue is also important. Only the most recent
releases will be year-2000 compliant. Firms still using SoftSolutions will have to switch
to another program, but users of Worldox are 2000 compliant (or can get a patch to make
In addition, you need to examine care-fully what
"compliant" means. In many cases, programs have simply shifted the way dates are
calculated to claim "compliance." Typically, dates from 51 to 99 are considered
to be 1951 to 1999 and dates from 00 to 49 are considered to be 2000 to 2049. Different
programs use different pivot dates, but the principle is the same. One consequence is that
such programs will not calculate birth dates correctly for anyone 50 or older. This may
affect some Trusts and Estates software, for example.
Other areas where problems could occur are spreadsheets
used to calculate mortgages or real estate transactions. Basically, any program that
calculates dates over a long time could be affected. Year 2000 is much less of an issue
for word processing programs. However, there are some exceptions: for example, if you use
tables with date calculations in versions of Word that Microsoft labels "compliant
with minor issues" they will not work correctly for dates after 2000. WordPerfect 7
and 8 are compliant but 5.x and 6.x are not.
Older PCs (most of those sold up to mid-1997) are not year
2000 compliant. This means that when the date changes from Dec. 31, 1999 to Jan. 1, 2000,
what happens is unpredictable. It is possible to purchase software utilities that claim to
correct these problems and also run diagnostics to determine what programs are not
compliant. Such programs may slow down what is likely to be an already slow computer if
used in a production situation, but they can be useful as a diagnostic tool.
What is valid for an individual PC, however, is not valid
for a network server. If your server is not year 2000 compliant, you absolutely should
upgrade it within the next year, and I would recommend upgrading any PC that is not
compliant. Most name brand PC makers (Dell, IBM, Gateway, HP, etc.) offer BIOS upgrades
that will make PCs compliant, so you may not need to replace the PC. If you have no-name
clones you should bite the bullet and replace all your PCs.
Where To Get Information
Most major manufacturers have "year 2k" pages on
their web sites. PC Magazine maintains a composite site at www.pcmag. com/y2k that
includes answers to frequently asked questions (known as FAQs) and has links to many major
manufacturers. You can also download a number of programs that will test your computer for
compliance. If you e-mail email@example.com, we will send you, free of charge,
programs that let you test your hardware (both DOS and Windows) for year 2000 compliance.
Users seeking information concerning product liability or other legal issues relating to
year 2000 compliance, should check out www.2000legal.com.
Understanding Computer Reviews
Making useful sense of most computer reviews, separating
out real information from the hype, is a fine art. What is not said is at least as
important as what is said. You should keep firmly in mind those features which you need,
features you don't want, and any features whose absence (or presence) constitute
"deal breakers"- that is, they alone are sufficient to decide to use or not use
a piece of software. Here are some pointers.
- Have a "hate list" and a "wish list" - the half dozen or so features
you hate or would like to have in your current software - and see how your list compares
with the software under consideration.
- Do you need (or even want) a feature being touted? For
example, Microsoft is pushing WebTV as a major selling point of Windows 98. But do you
really want people watching the daytime soaps while trying to enter time and billing
information, produce a document, etc.? Look for features that you will actually use as
opposed to the "cool" or "sexy" new features.
- If you don't want a feature, is it easy to get rid of? With
many programs the answer to this is "not very." For example, the only way to
definitively get rid of the "Office Assistant" in the Office 97 programs is to
edit the registry -- not something you really want to do.
- Key issues in the current Department of Justice vs.
Microsoft case revolve around how easy it is to "get rid of" Internet Explorer
(Microsoft claims it is impossible, but in fact it can be done by removing a few specific
- Computer reviews tend to be a bit schizophrenic: they often
focus alternatively on home users and very large corporations. For example, touting
additional security features (NT vs. Win9x) is essentially irrelevant for a small firm
that may not even insist that users must have passwords when they log in to the network.
Most computer reviews focus on high-end products (the
fastest, biggest, etc.) This leaves out two critical elements:
- Real Cost. What is the life expectancy of the
hardware? A low-end "cheap" computer with a short life expectancy may turn out
to be more expensive than a higher-end PC with a longer life.
- Reliability. One thing reviews rarely consider is
reliability. No-name clones may turn out to be much less reliable in a networked situation
than initially more expensive name brands. This translates into greater cost over time.
No-name brands that are "just as good as" name brands usually aren't, whether
you are purchasing computers or any other product. My experience is that the few dollars
extra you may pay for a "name brand" will pay off in terms of reliability,
decent technical support, etc. Consider the extra money an insurance policy.
Tips & Tricks
Using forms in Microsoft Word. Make a Word
template and designate it as a form. This allows for fill-in-the-blanks, drop-down lists
for easy selection, etc. Many standard forms can be duplicated this way. Be aware,
however, that no formatting functions are available in forms fields (no bold, underlines,
limited cut and paste. To make a form, select "create template" under file open.
Use the forms button bar to make your form, then lock the form so that users can only
enter information by selecting Tools | Protect Document.
Lock cells in WordPerfect tables. WP does
not have the Word forms function. However, by creating a table and locking the cells that
are fixed text, you can replicate most of Word's functionality (except for drop-down
lists). This is also useful for duplicating letterhead electronically, and prevents users
from accidentally modifying it. To lock a cell in a WordPerfect table, select the cell,
right click and select Format. Check the "lock cell to prevent changes" box. If
you select multiple cells, all selected cells will be locked.
The July/August issue of WordPerfect for the Law Office
carried expanded versions articles that appeared in two of our recent newsletters:
"Customizing WordPerfect 8" and "WordPerfect Legal Suite 8."