What Y2K Fears Wrought

A philosophical question about the year

2000 (Y2K) computer problem brought a philosophical answer and an admission that no easy conclusions can be drawn from a senior IBM Corp. executive at the Lotusphere trade show here today.

John M. Thompson, IBM executive vice president in charge of the software group, was one of the industry officials who sounded warnings about problems that might occur when the year rolled over to 2000 if companies and consumers didn't upgrade their software.

The year 2000 problem has occurred, though in a much more limited way than had been feared, because older software programs were written with two-digit date fields that misinterpret the "00" in 2000 as 1900 or don't recognize the date at all therefore leading to potential systems failures.

The Internet played a tremendous role in the spread of gloomy scenarios resulting from the impact of the date changeover including global recession, starvation and war -- the likes of which have not been witnessed on the predicted scale. Though Thompson and others in the IT industry were far more reasoned in their concerns and warnings, the question was asked of him at a press briefing today whether consumer confidence in the computer industry can be restored given that the effects of feared year 2000 problem was so slight globally.

"I think we did a great job," Thompson said, regarding how companies dealt with fixing the problem well before major meltdowns occurred. "I think the press was looking for a bad news story and when it didn't happen, they wanted to make something up."

Apart from his views regarding press coverage, though, Thompson was reminded by a reporter at the press briefing that he and others helped get things rolling in terms of causing concern.

"I wanted people to fear it and therefore take action," he admitted, adding quickly that he did not, however, want to be a "harbinger of doom and gloom."

"The fact is, we're in pretty good shape" in terms of lingering date rollover issues, he said. That's because companies spent billions of U.S. dollars and worked hard to deal with the issue, Thompson added.

The money spent and work put into the effort was necessary, he said.

Still, a skeptical public has wondered -- along with some in the media -- whether the problem ever really existed at all, and that's the issue in terms of whether consumers will ever again believe what computer industry executives have to say.

Problems are, in fact, occurring, but are being dealt with quickly and quietly without much ripple effect for the public. When problems are encountered related to the year 2000 and computers, they are mostly being kept quiet.

"They're not going to stand up (and announce a problem)," Thompson said of companies that are encountering date issues in software systems, "and neither am I because they're my customers."

IBM, in Armonk, New York, can be reached at +1-914-765-1900 or at http://www.ibm.com/. Lotus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, can be reached at +1-617-577-8500 or at http://www.lotus.com/.

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