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Year 2000 Bug Triggers Few Disruptions

Computers: Aside from a handful of mishaps--including a $91,250 'late' charge for a video--it was business as usual for most.

January 04, 2000|JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Major corporations and public agencies resumed day-to-day operations Monday with only a smattering of minor problems from the year 2000 computer bug.

Software makers reported below-average volume on their customer hotlines, the Federal Reserve began collecting the extra $10 billion it had distributed to banks in case of a cash panic, and the day seemed to unfold smoothly for most, with the exception of a few software makers, gun dealers, transportation firms and retail stores.

Godiva Chocolatier Inc. reported that a failure in its mainframe computer had prompted malfunctions in cash registers in about 200 stores, slowing transactions Sunday, but the problem was repaired by Monday. "We're still doing business, but it was just more cumbersome," spokesman Jerry Buckley said.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said the calendar shift had knocked out its database of gun dealer licenses, a problem that might take a week to correct. An ATF spokesman said the agency cannot register new firearms dealers until Saturday because its database could not accept new license numbers.

But elsewhere, companies and federal officials reported continued smooth sailing, so much so that they were defensive about the $300 billion to $600 billion the world had spent to squash the Y2K bug.

"The infrastructure is more resilient than we understood it to be," said Bruce W. McConnell, director of the International Y2K Cooperation Center, which was monitoring Y2K efforts worldwide. He groaned over criticism that businesses and governments went overboard correcting the Y2K problem. "Now we're in the phase of no good deed goes unpunished."

U.S. officials said the rollover had caused so few disruptions that the government would end its around-the-clock monitoring of the problem earlier than expected and would cut back to daytime-only monitoring today.

International Data Corp., a high-tech research firm, estimated Monday that the United States wasted $31 billion to $41 billion on unnecessary Y2K repairs and preparations, including $2.7 billion on salaries.

But major corporations stood by their expenditures on computer upgrades and repairs. "I don't think there's buyer's remorse. It was a nonevent in part because of all the preparation we were able to do," said Cisco Systems' John Earnhardt.

Small Business Administration officials reported a number of problems at the firms they survey, including a trucking firm that could not access any of its accounting records Monday.

The Federal Aviation Administration said a system that feeds weather information to pilots stopped recognizing years ending in '00 at midnight Saturday but was expected to be repaired by Monday night. In the meantime, airlines relied on a backup weather system.

Across the country, whatever Y2K snafus did surface appeared minor, though momentarily disturbing. In Colonie, N.Y., outside the state capital, a customer at the Super Video store on New Year's Day was told his late charge for renting "The General's Daughter" came to $91,250--because the computer said the film was 100 years overdue.

"The clerk and I were shocked, and then zeroed out the late charge and gave the customer a free video rental and wished him happy new year," shop owner Terry Field said.

A glitch in the popular Quicken personal-finance software surfaced around New Year's Eve and caused some customers' portfolios to dramatically inflate and resemble Warren Buffett's for a few hours. A spokeswoman for Intuit Corp., the software's maker, said the firm was unsure if the problem was tied to the rollover.

Customers enjoyed the glitch while it lasted. "Unfortunately my [millionaire] wealth lasted less than 12 hours," said Warner Lowe, 71, of Lake Oswego, Ore.

Microsoft Corp., the world's largest software maker, said Monday it was experiencing two Y2K-related problems, affecting software for viewing Web pages and using its free e-mail service.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer software is displaying the year as 3900 on some of its Web pages. And Microsoft discovered that some users of its Hotmail e-mail program were receiving an error in some message dates, displaying the date 2099, said Don Jones, director of year 2000 issues for Microsoft. He said technicians were fixing the Hotmail problem and Web site operators can use a new command to get the full date.

Consumers who took their own precautions--last-minute purchases of survival gear, batteries and firearms, for example--appeared content to hang on to their equipment.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. had braced for an onslaught of returns on emergency supplies, but few have materialized, the company said. Sears had notified new buyers of portable generators that if they brought them back after Jan. 1, they would be charged a 20% "restocking fee," which could run as high as a few hundred dollars. Company spokeswoman Peggy Palter said the weekend went so smoothly for the company that it is officially "standing down" its Y2K command center.

Times staff writers Hector Becerra, Sharon Bernstein, Elizabeth Douglass, Melinda Fulmer, Abigail Goldman, Stanley Holmes, Karen Kaplan, Charles Piller, Nancy Rivera Brooks, Edmund Sanders, Elizabeth Shogren and Indraneel Sur; correspondent Stephen Gregory; and Times wire services contributed to this report.

* ALL QUIET ON TECH FRONT

PC firms and small businesses, considered the most vulnerable, did fine. C3

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