From the June 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

If you've put off hiring a Y2K consultant to analyze your computer systems because you really can't afford it, it's time to consider other alternatives. You've only got seven months to get your systems in working order, and if your computers house anything beyond basic word processing documents, you're going to need to delve into your hard drive to make sure all your programs are Y2K-compliant.

The good news is there are a number of software solutions that can help. Don't expect miracles--these programs are designed to point out potential problems, but they won't necessarily solve them for you. In fact, once you've run a Y2K-analysis program, you'll still have a bit of work ahead of you: tracking down software updates, deleting old programs and files, viewing and changing dates within databases and spreadsheet files, and so on.

Ultimately, however, this work will be worth it when 01/01/00 rolls around and your system is still running smoothly, producing invoices, paychecks, schedules, financial statements, inventory orders, and, in general, keeping your business open and operational.


Cassandra Cavanah is a computer journalist who's made a homebased career of writing and consulting on tech-related issues.

Targeting The Problem

There are a few ways your PC could be affected by Y2K. If your machine is more than three years old, it's a prime candidate for problems. Older systems' BIOS--the software stored on a chip that serves as the interface between the computer and its operating system--may not handle the date change correctly, in which case it may have the wrong internal date. If that's the case, the software may become completely stymied or your computer may not boot up at all. Your operating system may also have issues with Y2K. Most people's problems, however, will be software-based--and fixable, with an update from the manufacturer.

The easiest way to determine whether your system may be affected by Y2K issues is by installing an inexpensive Y2K-analysis program. These programs offer analysis reports and suggest solutions, such as software fixes and BIOS updates. We took a look at three such programs, all priced under $100: Know2000, Norton 2000 and Year 2000 Now. Because Mac computers aren't under any threat from the millennium bug, these programs all run under Windows 95, 98 or NT.

In The Know

If it's at all possible for software manufacturing to be an altruistic endeavor, Know2000 (http://www.know-2000.com) is a prime example. The program's manufacturer, The Year 2000 Group Inc., is made up of a group of PC users and software engineers and seems like a garage-based business started for all the right reasons. After discovering just how difficult it is to cull all the data on the thousands of software programs plagued with Y2K issues, The Year 2000 Group crew created a program that didn't cost much money and would serve the greater good of the business community.

Know2000, which requires 8MB RAM and 2MB hard-drive space, is the most affordable program of the bunch, and, not surprisingly, it sports the least sophisticated interface. It doesn't offer the gloss and polish of the other programs reviewed here--it just gets down to work.

Installed using a couple of floppy disks, Know2000's approach is simple: Upon opening the program, it asks which drive you want to scan. Then Know2000 goes to work examining each bit of software on the selected drive, including the operating system and miscellaneous utilities you may never have known you had. (Know2000 even takes you through the process of checking your BIOS and offers Web site locations for fixes.) You can watch the scanning process--which took about one hour to perform on a 1GB hard drive--as it ascertains which software programs have Y2K problems and how severe they are.

When finished, it generates a report that includes the program names, versions and manufacturers. It even automatically outputs letters for the manufacturers regarding your Y2K-related problems. But don't expect easy fixes or specific details; the software merely provides the generic statement, "Not Year 2000 Ready--Upgrade or Discontinue Use." It's then up to the user to contact the manufacturers. (The other programs reviewed in this column actually link users to manufacturer Web sites, where they can find updates and patches to download.)

Now or Never

IMSI Software's Year 2000 Now incorporates a BIOS fixing tool along with Update Now, the company's software-updating program that analyzes your hard drive to determine which programs are out-of-date and then helps you find fixes by linking you to the appropriate Web sites.

There are a few key differences between Year 2000 Now and Know2000. First, unlike Know2000, Year 2000 Now (http://www.imsisoft.com) actually performs updates for you. It automatically locates, downloads and installs the most current software versions and provides the latest update patches and bug fixes. However, it doesn't profile the hundreds of small utility programs Know2000 looks at.

Year 2000 Now installs easily and requires 32MB RAM for Windows 95/98, 48MB RAM for Windows NT 4.0, and 125MB hard-drive space. Year 2000 Now is broken into three major sections: Profile, which lists the profile of your machine; Download, which helps you monitor file downloads; and History, which lets you view your prior actions.

Once your system is profiled, you can read detailed information about the out-of-date programs; then it's up to you to tell Year 2000 Now to perform updates. You can either schedule downloads at convenient times, download immediately and save to a disk for a later installation, or have the program walk you through the installation process. I chose the third option when installing a new driver for my printer and found the program had some problems installing the driver into the correct directory.

With Year 2000 Now, you also get a free subscription to the Update Now Web site (http://www.updatenow.com), where your system can be profiled and updated with the latest information available to IMSI. Unfortunately, my experience at the site was fairly dismal. The Web site's profiling system wasn't working, so after downloading the necessary plug-in to view the site, I was still unable to actually use the site. All in all, I found Year 2000 Now's promise of solving all my millennium bug problems unfulfilled.

2000 And Beyond

Like the two other programs mentioned here, Norton 2000 scans your hard drive to seek out potential Y2K problems. Developed by Symantec (http://www.symantec.com), this program also includes a free trial of Norton Anti-Virus to run prior to installing Norton 2000. This is just an extra precaution for users who don't have an antivirus program already installed.

Norton 2000, which requires 8MB RAM and 12MB hard-drive space, not only provided a more sophisticated analysis of my hard drive's Y2K problems than the other two programs, but also alerted me to specific date issues in spreadsheet and database files. The program works by creating a report that lists the severity of your problems and linking you directly to those files to see what the issues may be. In effect, Norton 2000 outlines the Y2K issues affecting your actual files--that's a different analysis than that offered by Know2000, which primarily gives users information supplied by manufacturers about fixes, patches and updates.

Norton 2000's sole goal is to provide you with information on data problems so you can then follow up with a solution--such as upgrading your software to a newer Y2K-compliant version. In a sense, Norton 2000 could be used in conjunction with one of the other programs mentioned here. You can't really combat your Y2K issues unless you're aware of both your outdated programs and any potential data disasters.

Get Ready...

There's no getting around addressing the Y2K issue. It's a problem that won't go away--and it's getting nearer and nearer each day. Even if you're running an office with just a few PCs, it behooves you to find the right arsenal of tools for the job. For its low cost and the basic knowledge it imparts, Know2000 is the best deal of the bunch. The specific, date-oriented information found within Norton 2000 is also quite useful for computers containing finance programs, databases or spreadsheets.

Report Card

Know2000

Street price: $19.95

Pluses: Analyzes every utility and program on your hard drive for Y2K compliance

Minuses: Doesn't offer easy fixes; requires users to contact manufacturers to seek out their own solutions

Norton 2000

Street price: $49.95

Pluses: Great for unearthing potential Y2K problems within database and spreadsheet files

Minuses: Doesn't analyze individual programs for Y2K compliance; should be used as an adjunct to other programs

Year 2000 Now

Street price: $49.95

Pluses: Updates common software programs on the fly by downloading updates/patches from the Web

Minuses: Doesn't look for problems that are less obvious, such as older utility programs

Hot Disks

Making sales: Vigilant Products offers several software solutions for retailers and wholesalers--all at reasonable prices. One affordable package is Sales Orders, an accounting and inventory control package designed specifically for wholesalers, mail-order distributors and manufacturers. Sales Orders ($895 street) includes invoicing, accounts receivable, accounts payable, inventory control, general ledger, advanced sales analysis and a scaled-down client contact management function. To check out Vigilant's product line, go to http://www.vigilant.com or call (800) 788-2790.

Get profitable: SageWorks ProfitCents is an Internet software program that analyzes your financial data to tell you how well you're managing your business. The analysis puts into narrative where your company is currently and suggests ways to improve your business immediately. ProfitCents compares two periods of data, such as one month against another or one quarter against another. This program promises to objectively review your financial situation and help you get where you want to go. You can obtain a management report online for just $29, or you can buy the full program, which includes updates for a year ($256 street). For more information, visit http://www.profitcents.com or call (888) SAGEWORKS.

A targeted approach: TargetSmart! works with a retailer's point-of-sale software to create a targeted marketing effort for your business. Essentially, TargetSmart! ($795 street) takes your customer and transactional data and segments your customers into four groups--Best, Spenders, Frequents or Uncertains--based on their buying patterns. By tracking and better understanding customer behavior, you can develop personalized promotional materials, such as postcards and fliers, that will appeal to each segment. This Windows-based marketing software program even tracks the results of your marketing efforts. Go to http://www.targetsmart.com or call (888) 576-3463 for more information and to load a demo program.

Report Card

Year 2000 Now

Street price: $49.95

Pluses: Updates common software programs on the fly by downloading updates/patches from the Web

Minuses: Doesn't look for problems that are less obvious, such as older utility programs

Norton 2000

Street price:TK

Pluses: Great for unearthing potential Y2K problems within database and spreadsheet files

Minuses: Doesn't analyze individual programs for their Y2K compliance; should be used as an adjunct to other programs

Know2000

Street Price: $19.95

Pluses: Analyzes every utility and program on your hard drive for Y2K compliance

Minuses: Doesn't offer easy fixes; demands users seek out solutions.