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No. 6, September 1998  

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?

Software

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 themselves compliant).

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.

Hardware

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 heckman@heckmanco.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.

Software

  • 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 files).
  • 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.

Hardware

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.


WordPerfect 8

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."


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No.21 April 2002
Future of Case Management Programs
No.20 October 2001
Disaster Recovery Small and Medium Firms
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