Considering technology's rapid advances and built-in obsolescence, it's pretty amazing when a computer company benefits from a decision made 14 years ago. But that's what's happened to Apple Computer Corp., which in 1984 had the forethought to make its products year 2000-compatible.
Practically from the company's inception, Apple's technologists wrote all dates with four digits instead of using the time-saving, cost-cutting alternative of two. That leaves the otherwise beleaguered company in a better position than many of its rivals, who today face customers panicked over looming computer chaos. "We have a design philosophy that says you don't place unnecessary limitations on a product," says Macintosh marketing manager Peter Lowe. According to Lowe, that translates into maximum flexibility for customers in areas ranging from the millennium bug to memory and hard drive expansion.
As a result, anyone who still owns an original Macintosh 128K computer from 1984 can rest easy for another 40-plus years: the machine will process date transactions between Jan. 1, 1904 and Feb. 6, 2040. Macs that have rolled off the assembly line since 1991 can process dates well after the turn of the century--all the way to the year 29,940, according to Lowe.
Although most Mac users are fairly insouciant about the year 2000 bug, Apple's phone support line does get the occasional panicked call from an unenlightened customer. Representatives are happy to walk jittery users through the Y2K testing process, and Lowe says he has yet to hear of a Mac that failed.
However, Murphy's Law--whatever can go wrong, will go wrong--is particularly true for technology, so Mac users are advised to test-drive their clocks with the big date. Also, some applications originally written for PCs may have two-digit-date programming that skulked into the Mac version, so it's advisable to ask application manufacturers if you need to upgrade. It's also important to check anything homegrown on your Mac; office hacks who've whipped up spreadsheet and database programs may have unwittingly written years with two digits instead of four.
However, it's likely most Mac users will be able to party when it's 1999. Lowe says that Mac-based small businesses needn't worry about reprogramming entire systems to turn over the zeroes at midnight, 2000--something that will become, by some estimates, a $600 billion industry by the end of next year. "It's a safe assumption that small businesses on Macs are going to save a lot of money that their counterparts on PC-based systems are going to have to spend," he says.