Microsoft sued over Y2K compliancy in tools

A developer has sued Microsoft claiming that some of the company's FoxPro database development tools are not year 2000-compliant, Microsoft executives confirmed today.

Ruth Kaczmarek filed the lawsuit Thursday in the US District Court in Chicago alleging that FoxPro 2.5 and 2.6 and Visual FoxPro 3.0 do not automatically recognise 2000 as a new century and instead render two-digit dates as 20th century dates, said Don Jones, year 2000 product manager for Microsoft. It is the first lawsuit filed against Microsoft involving the year 2000 (Y2K) issue, he said.

Although the software automatically recognises two-digit dates as being in the 1900s, it also allows users to turn on a Century Function that enables them to enter four-digit dates for either 1900 or 2000, Jones said. Developers have had that choice since 1992, he added.

The tools are compliant with minor issues as defined on the Microsoft Y2K Web site, which is at http://www.microsoft.com/year2000/, according to Jones and Microsoft spokesman Adam Sohn. "We posted information on this product before the suit was filed and have continued to maintain that information," Sohn said. "The broad point here is that this is a big challenge for everybody in this industry."

Neither Sohn nor Jones could say whether or not Microsoft was planning to offer a fix for the software. When deciding whether to offer a software patch or update, the company looks at the age of the product, the size of the installed user base and customer feedback, Sohn said. The FoxPro software involved in the lawsuit was released between 1993 and 1995, and Sohn speculated that there may not be a huge installed base still using it or applications running that were built by the tools.

In addition, issuing a software patch to fix the problem could be problematic because different developers build applications differently using the same tools, Jones pointed out. Issuing a software patch "might break a lot of other things," he said.

Microsoft is diligent in notifying customers of compliancy issues and fixing them when necessary, Sohn said. "We feel confident that once the courts have a chance to look at the facts and at our record on testing and disclosure that we're going to do quite well," he added.

Microsoft has tested more than 1,600 products so far and found that as many as 93 per cent of the products are Y2K-compliant or at least compliant with minor issues, Jones said. Minor issues are those that don't affect the core functionality of the product, such as using a keyboard instead of the mouse to record a date or using a separate function to enable the entering of four-digit dates, according to Jones.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is due to announce in January products and services that will help companies fix year 2000 problems in their software and hardware, Jones said.

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