Wednesday, September 2, 1998 3:59 PM
Amongst the Y2k discussions, there's been talk of the "1999 bug" as
well. For those unenlightened, that's the theory that certain
programmers used the date "9/9/99" as a sort of catch-all magic flag,
indicating a date that never expires or has some other sort of
significance. These doomsayers are claiming that on August 9th, 1999, a
lot of programs will suddenly break, in a similar manner to the way
they're predicted to come January 1st, 2000.
The only problem is, it's not going to happen. Why? Not that
programmers didn't use such special significance dates, they just didn't
use them like that. See, a two-digit century date in text format doesn't
take up 4 bytes, like "9999" does... they take up 6 bytes, like "01/01/99"
would be "010199". So these "magic" dates that programmers used would be
"99/99/99". If our calendars ever read that date, we've got bigger
problems than a few computer programs breaking...
On the same topic, it's pretty strange to see so many people blame
these old programmers for "lacking a date standard" and "taking an easy
way out". Look, hacking off the first 2 digits of the year was not
something that programmers started! Can you tell me that every time
you've dated a document, you wrote out the entire 4-digit year? I've
been doing it ever since I learned to write.
Yes, it was careless not to consider the future, but the truncation
certainly not a computer industry invention. They simply took advantage
of the fact that it saved them a bit of space.