At the Microsoft Office 2000 launch party last week, stand-up comic Al Murray, doing his excellent opinionated cockney publican routine, took great delight in ribbing the gathered IT luminaries about the impending millennium bug. Picking on a programmer in the audience he yelled: "So then, just how much crap are we in? Stand up and show me. Up to our knees? Our elbows? Or am I going to need a snorkel? You can't tell me can you?
COZ YOU DON'T BLEEDIN' KNOW!"
Unfortunately, stand-up comics aren't the only people who are laughing off the problem. A reasonably senior IT executive at a well-known financial house recently told a PC Week staffer: "We've done pretty much everything we're going to do for Y2K. None of us really see what the big deal is - I mean, it's only a date rollover. I can't imagine it causing any real problems for anyone. You lot in the press are always blowing things out of proportion and making a big deal out of relatively minor issues."
And there's the problem. So often in the past the media has seized upon stories of minor glitches in popular software with gusto, and we all know how everybody loves a good "Virus Wreaks Havoc on the Internet" story.
The recent "Intel 810 chipset crashes Pentium III shocker" is a good example - somebody forgot to mention that Intel had never intended the products to be used in the same system, and had publicly stated so on several occasions.
So while the headlines predict data loss, hardware failure and general doom all round, people in the real world usually find easy solutions and life goes on as usual.
It's not going to work like that with Y2K, though. Anybody who really understands the problem will tell you that the millennium bug isn't just about the two figure date - although that in itself is more than enough to cause headaches all round. There are many more facets to this very real problem. Planes will not fall from the sky (although Mr Murray would have us believe that aircraft computers will suddenly develop an identity crisis "coz flying wasn't invented in 1900") but the potential for a lot of things to go badly wrong should not be underestimated.
Unfortunately, many people are jaded by the media hype that has surrounded Y2K. Combine this with the reputation of technical IT people for speaking in tongues and getting excited about all sorts of odd things that the rest of the world doesn't really need to know about, and you've got a recipe for complacency. People are just switching off. Our message? This time a wolf really is coming - take a look for yourself.
Also, what's a USB stick?
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