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Get a Fix on Y2K Problems Via the Net
Download diagnostic software to tell you how bad things are — or aren't

Attention, Y2K procrastinators! With barely 300 days left to find a fix for your dreaded Year 2000 computer bug, here's an Internet site to get you started: For a modest fee, small-business owners can download software from the site that will quickly check your hardware and software, flag Y2K problem areas, and suggest solutions.

The site and the software -- which costs $29.95 online -- are the brainchildren of two Seattle collaborators, WebVision Inc., an E-commerce company, and WRQ Inc., a software publisher.

Although WebVision's software is hardly the only Y2K diagnostic product on the market -- others are offered by Microsoft, ATG Group, and Greenwich Mean Time, to name a few -- the company claims it's the only one you can download from the Web that will check both your BIOS and applications. Other online programs inspect one or the other, a WebVision spokesperson says. The BIOS, or basic input/output system, is the chip that interacts with your computer's internal clock and operating system while the computer boots up hardware and software. Because BIOS chips regulate time and date functions, old models are susceptible to Y2K problems.

We can't say definitively that no other company's product is comparable, but WebVentory's process is certainly convenient -- and fast. The whole process takes about 10 minutes. Here's how it works: You log on to the site, register, and -- after entering your credit-card details -- download the software. Activated with a mouse click, the program searches your hard drive and software. WebVentory then creates a log detailing all your applications and information about your BIOS. The program encrypts the information for security and sends it back to WebVision. There, your diagnostic data are automatically checked against a database of 7,300 applications, which is updated monthly. The database reveals the Y2K readiness -- and vulnerabilities -- of each of those programs. The company then zaps you back a report on potential Y2K problems.

The report includes a box with details about your BIOS chip, its manufacturer, the date it was installed, and whether it is Year 2000 compliant. A separate section lists your applications and puts each into one of four categories: completely Year 2000 compliant; has Y2K "issues" -- minor problems that can be readily repaired; is still undergoing manufacturer's tests for potential problems; or is completely noncompliant. It then recommends fixes. The company also allows you to use its database for the next 90 days to search for information about new products you may want to install.

TRIAL RUN. We ran WebVentory's test on a PC in our office and got a mixed report card. The software determined the BIOS, Phoenix Technologies' version 1.10 A06, was compliant. But it found that 14 of 23 applications on the hard drive had Year 2000 "issues." It deemed our version of Lotus cc:Mail for Windows to be noncompliant. "Upgrade to at least version 8 for guaranteed full compliance," the report suggested. The MS-DOS operating system, it determined, also had issues. "MS-DOS 6.21 will not accept two-digit changes after the year 2000; if two-digit date is entered it will be assumed 20th century. MSBACKUP does not recognize dates after 1999," the report said.

Overall, we found the process simple and the instructions clear. We did run into one snag, though: Our corporate firewall prevented the file with our diagnostic data from leaving our system for WebVision to analyze. So we had to E-mail the file separately to the company. That added some time to the process.

Business Week's own networks expert, John Navarro, says WebVentory's advice is sound. But, he cautions, such programs give black-and-white answers. And the report should be treated as a basic diagnostic test -- not a definitive bill of Y2K health. Craig Froelich, director of marketing for WebVision, agrees: "I would not consider this to be a be-all and end-all. It's part of an overall Year 2000 strategy. And there are a lot of steps that most organizations need to take."

Given how vulnerable many small businesses are to lost productivity from Y2K problems, $29.95 seems like a small investment to begin getting a fix on your repair needs. Too bad WebVentory can't also tell you if your customers and suppliers are being as virtuous as you.

By Jeremy Quittner in New York



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