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Thursday, 30 December, 1999, 19:00 GMT
Bearing up to the bug

Officers from Russia's Baltic Sea fleet conduct final Y2K tests Officers from Russia's Baltic Sea fleet conduct final Y2K tests

The true extent of the millennium bug will start to become apparent from 1100 GMT on Friday, when the world begins to move into the year 2000.

Bugtown UK
The first major industrialised country to take the plunge is New Zealand. Events there will provide the first indications of whether gloomy predictions of technological meltdown were justified.

It had been predicted that power blackouts and crashing aeroplanes could bring the world grinding to a halt, especially as the 1990s has seen computers become integral to many aspects of life.

The multi-layered control system completely rules out the possibility of a computer fault causing the unsanctioned use of nuclear weapons
Vice-Admiral Mikhail Barskov, Russian Navy
But many experts now say that relatively minor problems occurring over several months are a more likely outcome.

The millennium bug, widely known as the Y2K problem, results from the fact that older computers record the year with just two digits - 1999 becomes 99. Therefore the year 2000 (00) may be read as 1900 causing computers to crash.

Days and weeks

Governments, businesses and emergency services around the globe will be on watch to see if any computers fall victim to the date change.

The Brazilian military's emergency centre tests communication systems The Brazilian military's emergency centre tests communication systems
According to the International Y2K Co-operation Centre (IY2KCC), which is supported by the United Nations and involves 190 countries, electric power and telecommunications are expected to operate more or less normally, but Y2K errors will become very evident in the days and weeks after the date rollover.

"The inconveniences may not be immediately apparent this weekend," said Bruce McConnell, director of IY2KCC. "But overall the impact will be moderate."

He warned that computer crashes in the first countries to enter the year 2000, such as in East Asia, should not be taken as predictions of problems in other parts of the world, such as Western Europe.

Global costs

Computer industry consultant Peter de Jager agrees, believing that the Y2K bug will hit the least prepared countries first: "I'm not worried by New Zealand or Australia but I am more concerned about the Far East. The worst prepared come first. I wish that for one evening the Earth would rotate the other way."

A man buys a A man buys a "Y2K Emergency Set" of food and candles in Seoul, South Korea
Whether or not significant problems do occur, the Y2K problem has already been enormously expensive for governments and businesses. Estimates of the global costs of preparations and repairs vary between $250bn and $600bn.

Governments across the world have already declared their readiness for the new millennium, including India, Nepal, Iraq, Egypt, UK, US, Canada and Argentina.

However, a report this week from US information technology research firm Gartner Group names the least prepared countries as Russia, former Soviet states, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as parts of central and western Africa.

Russian worries

Russia has been a focus of much international concern, as it is home to nine Soviet-era atomic power plants and thousands of nuclear missiles.

However, Russian officials, from the state railway company to the Mir space station control room, say all is under control. Nonetheless, as an extra safeguard, Russian specialists are at a US command centre, working with American experts to watch for any false warnings of missile attacks sparked by the Y2K bug.

Any damage from the millennium bug will not be restricted to the moment the date rolls over, but could occur any time a computer mistakenly reads a date.

Consequently, the story of the Y2K bug is likely to played out over several months. The Gartner Group's report predicts that less than 10% of Y2K glitches will occur in the first two weeks of January, with 55% hitting over the rest of the year. So the first hours of the new millennium will be the beginning, not the end, of the millennium bug.

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See also:
30 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
World prepares to beat the bug
30 Dec 99 |  Sci/Tech
Y2K problems start small
29 Dec 99 |  Business
Millennium bug hits retailers
29 Dec 99 |  UK
UK unveils Y2K bug website
28 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Iran axes Y2K flights
28 Dec 99 |  Americas
Y2K risk closes US military websites
23 Dec 99 |  Americas
Colombia's rebels ready for Y2K

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