Norton 2000 stamps out elusive Y2K bugs

Norton 2000 stamps out elusive Y2K bugs

Are all the applications on your desktop year 2000 compliant? Are any hidden year 2000 bugs lurking in the spreadsheet and database data files on your desktop PC? Merely doing a visual check through your files is unlikely to uncover all the subtle date bugs that could afflict your system. That's where Symantec's Norton 2000 comes in handy. This automated tool does a thorough job of checking all three areas of year 2000 exposure on the PC: the basic input/output system (BIOS) clock, applications and data.

Norton 2000 loads from a CD-ROM, so it can't easily be used on older PCs. We tried it out on Microsoft's Windows 95, 98 and NT systems. Unfortunately, it can't be used with DOS or Windows 3.x.

Up to date

The complete package loaded in less than 8MB of hard drive space, but we added almost another megabyte by using the included LiveUpdate to download the most recent year 2000 data files from Symantec's Web site. You'll need an Internet connection for this step, which is essential to keeping Norton 2000 up to date.

Norton 2000's first task was to create a bootable diskette for testing the BIOS clock and fixing it with a memory-resident program if needed. Booting from a diskette is the only safe way to test the clock for handling year 2000 dates. That's because if certain applications see that the current date is in the next century, the licences might be set to expire permanently.

As far as the BIOS clock is concerned, computers made after 1996 generally will roll over from 12/31/1999 to 1/1/2000 with no problem while turned off, whereas older PCs often roll over to an incorrect date. However, the date can then be set to 1/1/2000 manually with no problem. The century should stay at 20 permanently. Users with those very few PCs that have a complementary metal oxide semiconductor real-time clock that cannot be reset manually can flash their BIOS, buy a new motherboard, buy an Industry Standard Architecture adapter card with a BIOS on it or apply a software patch to the BIOS. Note that on networked PCs, the redirector software in the client PC will set the PC's clock to the file server's clock, no matter what had been in the PC's clock.

After finishing the clock test, we got down to the real task of scanning applications and data. The package includes a wizard, but we preferred to do scans manually. The user interface is easy to use, with helpful descriptions that appear when you click on objects. The manual is well written but largely unnecessary. At the completion of the first scan, we had printed 11 pages of information on year 2000 problems, most of which were unknown to us. A distressing number concerned Microsoft operating systems and applications.

To make this list easier to handle, reports can be condensed or lengthy. On screen, reports are arranged in a tree structure, and each section can be expanded as desired. Although the package doesn't provide a direct method for downloading year 2000 patches from software vendors, it displays a lightning-bolt icon leading to a vendor's site from which an update can be downloaded.

A common year 2000 problem occurs where applications place the cusp point, that is, the dividing line where two-digit dates are considered to be either in the 1900s or the 2000s. Even different versions of the same application might have different cusp points. For example, Microsoft's Excel 95 interprets the two-digit dates 00 to 19 as 2000 to 2019 and all other two-digit dates as being in the 1900s. Excel 97's cusp point is later; it interprets two-digit dates 00 to 29 as 2000 to 2029. So if you enter a date in Excel 95 as "20", it will be interpreted as 1920. But in Excel 97, "20" will be interpreted as 2020. With the Norton 2000 printout, we could view a complete list of the rules used by our applications.

Scans of our database and spreadsheet data files caught many issues, ranging from severe problems to mere warnings. If you have Excel 5.0 or later, Norton 2000 provides a colour-coded, annotated display of the spreadsheet cells. The spreadsheet analyser examined Visual Basic source code and macros embedded in the Access and Excel data.

Customised specifications

An analyser for unstructured data is included, and we tested it with a text file containing names and dates. It quickly pointed out minor date problems, but scanning options were limited. The Corporate Edition enables users to make customised date-form specifications.

Norton 2000 is worth the price, but network administrators will find it worthwhile to spend the extra dollars for the Corporate Edition. The Corporate Edition enables administrators to deploy Norton 2000 over a network. While you can copy files from the server to your local drive for scanning, the retail version of Norton 2000 will not allow you to directly scan the networked drives. The Corporate Version contains reporting, management and data storage options that you will find necessary in a networked environment.

The Bottom Line

Norton 2000

Norton 2000 detects an enormous number of year 2000 bugs in data and applications. Many of these problems are unlikely to be detected by a visual check. While the retail version is adequate for stand-alone PCs, networked users will need the Corporate Edition.

Price: The retail version is $79. The Corporate Edition is available from $79 per seat for 10 to 24 users, purchased with the Media CD for $35, with prices decreasing the greater the number of users.


Tel (02) 9850 1000

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