- Nov 5, 2011
A lazy fix 20 years ago means the Y2K bug is taking down computers now
Parking meters, cash registers and a professional wrestling video game have fallen foul of a computer glitch related to the Y2K bug.
The Y2020 bug, which has taken many payment and computer systems offline, is a long-lingering side effect of attempts to fix the Y2K, or millennium bug.
Both stem from the way computers store dates. Many older systems express years using two numbers – 98, for instance, for 1998 – in an effort to save memory. The Y2K bug was a fear that computers would treat 00 as 1900, rather than 2000.
Programmers wanting to avoid the Y2K bug had two broad options: entirely rewrite their code, or adopt a quick fix called “windowing”, which would treat all dates from 00 to 20, as from the 2000s, rather than the 1900s. An estimated 80 per cent of computers fixed in 1999 used the quicker, cheaper option.
“Windowing, even during Y2K, was the worst of all possible solutions because it kicked the problem down the road,” says Dylan Mulvin at the London School of Economics.
Coders chose 1920 to 2020 as the standard window because of the significance of the midpoint, 1970. “Many programming languages and systems handle dates and times as seconds from 1970/01/01, also called Unix time,” ...
Read more A lazy fix 20 years ago means the Y2K bug is taking down computers now