Kearns' column: Year 2000 legal suit centres on Symantec

I wanted to write a column on the recently agreed to Directory Enabled Network (DEN) initiative, but deadlines got in the way. Instead, let me announce the beginning of the Year 2000 silly season. It seems that a California law firm (Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach LLP) has filed a class action suit over allegedly defective computer software. Surprisingly, Microsoft was not the target of the suit -- Symantec and its Norton AntiVirus software were!

Milberg Weiss has a long history of class action suits on behalf of stockholders against companies the lawyers say misrepresent their financial position, but this appears to be the first lawsuit ever over the Year 2000 issue.

Looking closely at the case, you discover that it's not that the current Norton AntiVirus software is susceptible to the millennium bug, but that versions sold before September 1997 are. Milberg Weiss claims that many other software companies are correcting Year 2000 problems and providing patches free of charge.

That's quite true. Most vendors are providing free fixes -- where needed -- for their currently shipping soft- ware. But how many companies are providing software fixes for obsolete versions?

And why antivirus software? Operating systems, database systems and financial applications all seem liable to cause much more of a problem. Could it be that Milberg Weiss, which also has an outstanding shareholder suit against Symantec, is simply looking for a way to pressure the company?

But if that is the logic, why not sue Novell for not providing Year 2000 fixes for NetWare 3.11 and 4.10 (and earlier versions)? After all, Milberg Weiss also has a stockholder suit pending against Novell, and it should be much easier to demonstrate the potential losses if a network operating system isn't Year 2000 ready.

It may be that this is only the first shot in a long legal war over the implied warranty of software.

Follow this one closely. It should be interesting to see how it plays out. But don't count on the court demanding that vendors offer free Year 2000 fixes for all software. For safety's sake, just keep plugging away on all the testing and upgrading you need to do.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.

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