Happy 15-Year Y2K Anniversary!

It has officially been fifteen years since the turn of the millennium. Most of us vividly remember the Y2K bug scare, but for those who need a bit of a refresher, here is a brief overview of the whole situation.


newyear_divFor many, the Y2K bug was going to be what set off an apocalyptic-type situation. This is interesting, because in 1999, the nation was not nearly as dependent on computers and digital connectivity as we are now. Theories of what devastating things would happen ranged from all power going dark to the far-fetched notion of spontaneous zombies or other monsters. To the public, Y2K was mysterious and frightening, and without the same general societal knowledge of computers as we have in the present day, there was no logical explanation for what was actually going to happen.


As we now know, the real results were much more mundane. Midnight passed without any planet explosions, sudden hotbeds of walking dead activity, or devastating weather events. Instead, the clocks all ticked over to January 1, 2000, as though it was just another regular year.


Y2K was actually just a software problem, and mostly only affected businesses instead of individuals. Companies were concerned with the rollover from 99 to 00, worrying that their computers would register the year as 1900 instead of 2000, as most programs stored dates not in four digits (1999) but in two (99). This issue was mainly just a simple fix, a small program edit or a software update. So the fact that it burgeoned into a huge scare was possibly the result of a general lack of public information. Would the same situation happen in 2015, were 2015 somehow to become the year 2000 again? That’s a question for further speculation.


What’s interesting is that we can see similar reflections of the issue even today, although perhaps in better-managed situations. For example, there’s been a lot of curiosity about why Microsoft is skipping the Windows 9 OS and jumping straight to Windows 10. This is because of a programming issue that existed years ago and might not have been thought of when it was first written in (similar to the Y2K bug).


A lot of the code written for Windows 95 and 98 have commands that help differentiate between the two operating systems that would not allow for a future operating system named “9,” causing issues in a lot of proprietary as well as third-party code. Although Microsoft has not publicly announced that this is why 9 is being skipped, those in the know claim that it is the most logical reason.


These examples show that it’s difficult to program with every future code issue in mind, which is a big part of why software evolves so often. Just make sure to keep your ears out for future similar situations—and just remember, any problems are not going to result in the zombie apocalypse. Probably.


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