Y10K enters the date debate

Before you rest on your laurels after licking the Y2K problem, think about the effect your actions will have on future generations of IT professionals.

Make that around 267 generations.

That's right, in 8000 years time, it appears our descendants stand to encounter another IT crisis - the Y10K problem.

But before you accuse Computerworld of a typing error, consider - if you will - what the Internet Society calls the Y10K problem.

The society's network working group last week sent a detailed analysis and request for comment document titled "Y10K and Beyond" to thousands of people on one of its e-mail lists.

According to the report's authors - Compaq's "S. Glassman, M. Manasse and J. Mogul" - current Y2K fixes will roughly cover the next 8000 years of software development before our distant relatives face the same IT crisis all over again "when the programs are again designed to fail".

The report claims the move to four digits to achieve Y2K compatibility is "short-sighted", and warns against the belief all existing software programs will be extinct by the year 9999.

"This is exactly the faulty logic and lazy programming practice that led to the current Y2K problem!" the authors state.

The IT industry's current approach to dating systems is flawed, it seems.

"The two-digit year runs into trouble next year. The four-digit year hits the wall in the year 10,000. A 16-bit year runs out in the year 65,536. A 32-bit counter for the number of seconds since 1970 [Unix] wraps in 2038. A 32-bit counter for the number of milliseconds since booting crashes a Windows PC in 49.7 days," the report states.

Unfortunately, the exact solutions to this mess appear to be the subject of much mathematical debate in the report.

However, the authors have outlined what a Y10K solution should incorporate.

This includes compatibility with four-digit date formats, easy identification of post-year 10,000 dates, and date sorting according to ASCII characters.

In addition, the authors highlight some "environmental considerations", otherwise known as the ultimate death of the universe: "The prevailing belief is that the life of the universe (and thus the range of possible dates) is finite."

But take heart, we still have a few more years to figure this one out.

"It is not too early to aggressively pursue solutions for the Y10K problem," the authors optimistically state.

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