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BUSINESSMEN SAY THEY SMELL A RAT AMONG SOFTWARE COMPANIES

Slovak Y2K fears as yet unfounded

The dreaded 'Millenium Bug,' a computer timepiece problem which it was feared would wreak havoc with financial, telecom and business systems the world over, seems not to have materialised in Slovakia. Several days into the new year, Slovak businessmen are even saying that the Millenium Bug scare was a hoax created by software companies to sell expensive upgrades.
"The Y2K problem was like a bubble that disappeared when pricked," said Ladislav Holubanský, IT chief at Istrobanka. "Some companies just wanted to earn more money, and used Y2K to convince clients to upgrade their older computers."

The dreaded 'Millenium Bug,' a computer timepiece problem which it was feared would wreak havoc with financial, telecom and business systems the world over, seems not to have materialised in Slovakia. Several days into the new year, Slovak businessmen are even saying that the Millenium Bug scare was a hoax created by software companies to sell expensive upgrades.

"The Y2K problem was like a bubble that disappeared when pricked," said Ladislav Holubanský, IT chief at Istrobanka. "Some companies just wanted to earn more money, and used Y2K to convince clients to upgrade their older computers."

Reports from around the country in early January said that Slovakia had passed into the new millenium without any dramatic problems. Peter Mach, head of the Slovak Statistics Office and the leader of the government working group for monitoring Y2K, said on January 4 that "so far we know only of minor breaks in electricity supplies in some regions as well as in the aluminum factory in Žiar nad Hronom, but it none of these were caused by Y2K. We have actually had fewer emergency situations than usual."

According to Mach, the Slovak government had considered the areas most vulnerable to Y2K, and thus most dangerous to the public, to be nuclear power plants, the chemical industry and health care. He estimated that Slovak state institutions had spent more than two billion Slovak crowns ($47.6 million) to adaptate their systems for the new millenium.

Holubanský said that he felt the furore over Y2K had been excessive, especially in the banking sector. "Slovak banks in particular weren't affected by Y2K, because their computer systems are all less than 10 years old. Y2K was really a serious threat only for big companies still using computer systems from the 1960's," he said. "Istrobanka wouldn't have been afraid to continue doing money transfers even on December 31, but the Slovak National Bank forced all banks to stop all clients services on that day."

Otomar Ambros, head of the Y2K taskforce at telecom monopoly provider Slovenské Telekomunikácie (ST), agreed that Y2K had failed to live up to expectations. Problem-free since January 1, ST spent 400 million Slovak crowns insuring itself against the Bug and had more than 200 people working on Y2K plans even during the very last days of the old millenium.

Paradoxically, Istrobanka was one of few Slovak companies having troubles with Y2K in early January. The date on their web site showed 'January 3900' rather than 'January 2000,' a minor glitch that was fixed on January 4. Holubanský blamed the error on external systems rather than on the bank's operational net.

Indeed, instead of the havoc that many people had anticipated on January 1, wrong dates on internet sites seemed to be the extent of the damage. Slovak internet firm Onlinerevue was perhaps the worst hit, showing the date as 'January 192000.'

But several IT experts warned that it was still too early to assess the whole impact of Y2K, warning that problems might continue to arise until the end of February. "I would say the first week of January was only the first of several risky periods. We should hold on with our final comments for a couple more weeks, and I imagine that some troubles might occur even within the coming years," the government's Mach said.

Other experts believe that January 1st wasn't the real end of the Y2K problem, which had been forecast as older computers would be fooled into thinking that the year 2000 was actually the year 1900. "Y2K was a problem of old hardware which wasn't able to deal with the new century. But since the year 2000 is a leap year and 1900 wasn't, we still have to get past February 29, and that will be a real problem for software," said Jozef Lenčéš of the ICL computer firm. "But I don't expect any huge problems."

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