THE ANIMATED SOFTWARE COMPANY
This Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q.) page is designed as a generic answer to those questions.
There are three parts to this document: Background, Impact on Applications, and Other Issues.
Virtually all software we distribute is written with our animation and educational software toolkit known as "P11" or more formally, Russell's "P11" Animation Machine. (I'm Russell.)
P11 has been around a long time for a software program. Development was begun in 1984 to provide a set of tools for creating an educational software program called THE HEART: THE ENGINE OF LIFE and P11 was continuously upgraded, but never replaced, for 11 years, until the lastest release which was in 1994. P11 is a stable platform. In fact, it is possible that P11 will never be updated again by the original author, but hopefully some day will be rewritten with "modern" tools (it is currently written in Assembler language) and updated to include . . . whatever.
The program has date capabilities, and the author pondered from the very start what to do about the upcoming (then 16 years away) "Y2K" problem, but because Microsoft provided DOS with only a two-digit date at the time, there was little that could be done, and thus, P11 can only handle a two-digit date. Consequently, there is no way that P11 can tell -- because there is no way for DOS to tell it -- that the year I'm writing this is 1998, 2098, 2198, 2298 and so on.
However, P11 does not use the date for any internal processing functions. It uses the the clock interrupt directly for timing controls, and merely provides the date to the application developer, who can do what they want with it.
The time and date supplied by DOS to P11 is accurate to about 1/18th of a second and is provided to the P11 application developer in an alphanumeric form based on the value sent it by DOS. It is not expected that Microsoft will change the old DOS function to return a differently formatted value as that would surely cause numerous problems to many, many programs, as well as violate the #1 rule in Operating System requirements: Stability. More likely, is that Microsoft will provide a new function or subfunction which will have a "four digit date" in it. In fact, they may already do this in current DOS versions, but as of the last update to the P11 program (in 1994, as stated above) there was no such function, so it is not available because the author (that's me again) no longer upgrades the development tool. Instead, I spend my time developing interactive animation programs with the tool (which is a lot more fun than Assembler Language Programming!)
One might fairly ask: Why do I keep using this old tool when things like JAVA and HTML are making universal access the buzzwords of the day? First of all, P11 runs on about 95%-99% of the PC's out there, and that percentage has been growing, not shrinking, since Windows 3.1 came out and especially, since Windows 95 came out. P11 programs run very reliably, which means we can distribute software for free or very inexpensively to millions of people without incurring extensive support problems. This benefits our customers even more than it benefits us, of course. It is certainly part of the reason why people continue making THE HEART: THE ENGINE OF LIFE "pick of the week" and whatnot on BBS's and things. It is surely why university professors and industry trainers around the world routinely tell us they are showing pump animations from ALL ABOUT PUMPS in their state-of-the-art classrooms.
Because DOS has a 2-digit date field, the possibility of some impact does exist on application programs (that is, programs written with P11, such as ALL ABOUT PUMPS or THE HEART: THE ENGINE OF LIFE).
The application programs authored by the P11 programmer himself (YH&OS) handle dates rarely. To the best of my recollection there are specifically only four instances where the time and/or date are checked or displayed within P11 application programs I have written. None of these instances where the date is used pose any Y2K problems, but here are the instances anyway:
There are no Y2K or date-related concerns for versions 2.08 or earlier of this program. The current release of this program, Version 3.50 (released June, 1998) has a timed interactive quiz which is designed to handle "up to 48 hours or two midnight's, whichever is less". In other words, if the user takes too long for the timer to continuously track the time, the program simply does not provide the user with any feedback on how long it took to do the quiz. The Y2K crossover would be irrelevant to the timing controls.
This program also has a timed portion where the user puts together pieces of the human heart. The timing routine, even if it is run across any year-boundary, should work fine.
Although there are no Y2K problems expected in this program's timed "earth puzzle" game, which should behave much like the timed items described above for the All About Pumps and Engine of Life programs, we would like to note that this program also has an energy usage graphic which has a line indicating "today" which advances through about the year 2030. Adjustments for any differences between "actual" and "projected" will not have been made to the graphic. The date the program was last updated indicates the last possible "actual" figures, of course.
This is a one-screen cartoon animation which displays an "Earth Clock" in the corner. It only shows the hour and minute; testing indicates the date routine should properly handle the Y2K "problem".
In modern computer environments, chances are probably 99.9% or greater that the user will be running a DOS emulation instead of "real" DOS, inside of Windows 95, 98, or NT. All these programs are from Microsoft, of course, and provide the user with a great many benefits such as multithreading (or is it multitasking?) and crash protection, and "shortcuts", clipboards, Internet access, and so on. This is generally a good thing and P11 "gets along well" with most Windows installations.
However, the author notes that if you are running our software and Windows "goes down" for any reason, or shuts DOS down for any reason, naturally whatever is running goes down with it. Although P11 programs are extremely unlikely to be the cause of the system failure, they will suffer with everything else if the system goes down or if they are shut down by DOS going down. Our programs are at the mercy of the system.
It is also possible that some other application that is running at the same time, in either DOS or in an emulated DOS in a Windows environment, or in Windows itself, brings down the system; this would of course bring us down as well. In such instances, of course, it is possible that some systems would go down and not others.
There are legitimate Y2K concerns for all computer users of all computer programs; this document contains comments that are by and large, applicable to all software systems in use everywhere. Our products certainly are not expected to fail without "help" from whatever else is running, but this cannot be construed as a gaurantee things will work out, or even that it could not as some point appear that our software was to blame. For example, another program could fail, but not fail catastrophically. It might just mess up other program's memory locations. Those other programs might then fail, but not necessarily right away -- not until they try to use those memory locations!
For these types of reasons, we recommend two things: Be aware of the potential problems, but don't panic. It is a generally accepted fact that PC's go down now and then. Our software is seldom to blame but it happens anyway, now and then. We believe it would be wise if everyone using computers at Midnight, December 31st, 1999 to simply consider the idea of turning their computer off for a few minutes as the date passes them by. Or do what I've done several times, starting in 1984 when I first considered the "Y2K problem": Bump the date forward manually to 12/31/99 at 23:59, and turn on all the programs you expect to be running at or after the year 2000, and then see what happens. You will probably be pleasantly surprised to find that nothing happens.
Just be careful to set the date back again soon, so you don't accidentally write any files with bad dates. Of course, you might be hesitant to try this test but rest assured that millions of people ARE trying it! Of course, like all software vendors, I'm not gauranteeing anything or nothing, and I'm not responsible for what happens etc. etc. etc..
I plan to be partying, December 31st, 1999. The next day I am leaving my schedule open, but I really don't expect any emails from users who's P11 programs no longer work. And I don't mean because the Internet will be down...