The end of year approaches and all eyes in the computer industry are waiting to see whether the much-debated year 2000 bug will wreak havoc or prove to be the most over-hyped issue of the millennium.
Most commentators think the reality will be closer to the second option -- few discernible signs of disruption on the 31st/1st changeover but the possibility of aggregated problems over the following two or three months. Action 2000, the government bug-busting taskforce, is confident all the essential services -- electricity, food, water, money -- will run as normal, with the only disruption coming from people stockpiling or everyone hitting the phones at midnight on New Year's Eve.
The real problems are likely to happen in the days and weeks following the date change, but Action 2000's director Don Cruickshank is confident they will be small glitches. "In the UK they will not be severe enough to be noticed," he said at a press briefing two weeks before the changeover.
To reassure the public and dispel some of the myths -- such as toasters blowing up and planes falling out of the sky -- Action 2000 has sent booklets explaining the facts of the bug to every household in the UK. It has also issued a Last Chance booklet for the one-fifth of small businesses that are still not ready for the bug.
1999 has not been an easy one for the group. In January ZDNet News revealed that some of the bug-fix companies on its database were cowboys out to make a quick buck. In April the taskforce was accused of complacency as it announced that nine percent of the NHS, four police forces and one fire brigade were at severe risk of bug disruption. Critics called for the naming and shaming of the organisations involved.
In July, the group did name and shame six local authorities and was criticised for picking on the laggards. It also revealed that eight major financial organisations were not compliant but refused to name them, saying it was not in the best interest of customers and shareholders.
In the autumn, the government unveiled its global guide to the millennium, advising travellers to avoid Russian airports, to take extra cash to Egypt and not fall ill in the Philippines. Disclosure about the bug has not been transparent in many under-developed countries and Action 2000 does not rule out the possibility of problems.
Chief executive of Taskforce 2000 Robin Guenier goes one step further, advising people to stay home for the millennium. Guenier has been one of Action 2000's fiercest critics and he still warns the public to expect disruptions. "I wouldn't be surprised if nothing much happened on 31 December or 1 January but there is the potential for technical failures days, weeks even months after. We can't relax until June 2000," he said.
Other bug highlights from the year.
Take me to the Year 2000 Special.