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Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking Glass

Are the HP Palmtops Year 2000 compliant? How can you ensure that the Palmtops on-board clock is on time?

by Ed Keefe

The year 2000 is little more than twelve months away and by now most computer users are aware of the "Y2K" (Year 2000) problem.

Depending on which Y2K articles you've read you might expect that on Jan. 1, 2000, the economies of the world will collapse, planes will fall out of the sky, patients hooked to life-support systems will expire. Or else you might suspect that the only thing that will happen is that a few old computer programs will stop working.

An Age-Old Bug

The Y2K problem began almost fifty years ago when computer memory was expensive. Programmers saved precious computer memory by using two digits instead of four to represent the year. The century part of the year was always "19. It was such a clever way to cut costs that the practice was passed on until it permeated the entire data processing world from main-frames to PCs to digital clocks. When January 1, 2000 rolls around, computers will ignore the "20 in the year field and use the default of "19. As a result, date-sensitive programs that are not Y2K-compliant will fail.

How About the HP Palmtops?

The question will the Y2K bug kill the Palmtop? has been asked often enough to warrant a definitive answer.

Microsoft's Response

On Microsoft's Web page there's a hyperlink to their Year 2000 page. From that page you can click on the Products hyperlink to get a scroll-list of Microsoft products. The list includes the entry for MS-DOS 5.0 (ROM) for HP200LX.

In short, Microsoft claims that the HP 200LX is compliant with minor issues.

Here is a more detailed explanation of the "minor issues.

Of Clocks and Calendars

The HP 200LX has a hardware clock and calendar. It also has a firmware "clock that knows how to interpret the hardware clock. This firmware is part of the MS-DOS operating system.

Microsoft makes no claims about the Y2K compliancy of the hardware clock/calendar. It does state that "MS-DOS is aware of dates beyond the year 2000. MS-DOS does not display the full year, but will sort files correctly.

Microsoft further states that after Dec. 31, 1999, the DATE command in DOS will fail if you set the date using only the last two digits of the year. For instance, if you set the date using any of the digits from 00 to 79, you'll get an error message "Invalid Date.

If you set the date using the digits 80 through 99, the operating system will interpret this as 1980 through 1999.

To make the MS-DOS DATE command behave properly, you will have to set the date using all four digits of the year.

The only other command that uses dates, according to Microsoft, is the DIR command. The DIR command will only display the last two digits of the year. However, if you use the command DIR /OD to force a directory list to be Ordered by Date, the list will be sorted correctly. Files with a 00 in the year field will come after those with a 99 in the year field.

There are no patches available at this time and no plans to develop any.

So far so good

Microsoft's response only addresses the MS-DOS operating system and would be the definitive answer for users of the HP 1000CX Palmtop. However, most Palmtop users run System Manager on HP 100/200LXs.

So the question should be, Is the System Manager program and the other built-in Palmtop applications Y2K compliant? And the answer is almost.

Check It Out In Setup

The most critical Palmtop application that works with dates and time is the Setup program. To determine its Y2K compliancy, start Setup by pressing CTRL+ Filer. Then press MENU Options Date to open the Date/ Time dialog window. Note that all of the Date Formats indicate a two-digit year number. Select the DD-MMM-YY Date Format and press ENTER.

We want to set the date to 2000 temporarily, so press the Arrow keys and the DEL key to delete the 98 from the date field.

You might think that you'd have to type in 2000 but actually you can simply type 00, press ENTER and Setup will correctly interpret this as 2000. In other words, Setups Date/Time function overcomes one of the minor issues of the MS-DOS DATE command. The other minor issue of displaying the four digits of the year still persists.

How About the Other Apps?

Filer is Y2K compliant in that it will let you create files with a four-digit year. However the Filer program itself will only show the last two digits.

To check this out open Filer and look at the top line on the screen. You'll see that the year is shown as 00. Select MENU Options DOS and type REM > TESTFILE.TXT (all on one line) and press ENTER. Type EXIT and press ENTER to return to Filer. Make sure that you have a Full screen view of the files in the current directory. (Press F7 if necessary.) You should see TESTFILE.TXT with 0 (zero) bytes and a date whose year is 00. Select Menu Options Sort Date and press ENTER. The TESTFILE. TXT entry will move to the bottom of the list. This shows that even though only two digits appear for the year field, Filer does indeed work with a 4-digit year internally.

Appointment Book

If you start the Appointment Book, and press F5 and F4 to "Goto Today you'll see that the first line in the display shows the date with a two-digit year. However, the second line of the display will show the year as 2000. In other words, the Appointment Book is Y2K compliant with the "minor issue that the four digit year number is not always displayed.

Summing Up

In short, all of the other System Manager applications are equally Y2K compliant. They handle date operations correctly but they don't always show a four-digit year. For example, if you use the DATE key to enter the date in any application, you'll get a two-digit year.

Lotus 1-2-3

As was mentioned in the Sept/Oct, 1998, Basic Tips, Lotus 1-2-3 is also Y2K compliant due to the way in which 1-2-3 handles dates.


On the other hand, cc:Mail, is not Y2K compliant and Lotus is not interested in fixing the program on the Palmtop. Lotus is giving away a Y2K compliant version of cc:Mail for the desktop, which is of little help to Palmtop users.
(This is wrong: cc:Mail Remote is fully Y2K compliant according to HP and Lotus. This was handled by HP when it acquired the rights to put the software on the Palmtop.)

Third Party Software

One of the great features of the HP Palmtops is their ability to run many older DOS programs.

However in the light of the Y2K problem that feature may turn into a queen-bug (i.e., one that begets lots of other bugs).

We have not attempted to test all the software that is available in the CD InfoBase or on the World Wide Web so we cannot say which programs will go on ticking and which will take a licking and quit working in the next century.

If you're planning to use additional software on the Palmtop you need to be especially concerned with those programs that deal with calendars or time tracking.

In particular, if the program you want to use is a full-fledged System Manager program or was written using the PAL library of functions, then it should be Y2K compliant.

You'll need to test plain MS-DOS programs to see if they can handle dates beyond 2000 correctly. Be careful using database programs, project management programs, calendars and Personal Information Managers. They all work with dates and may try to access the hardware clock/calendar rather than the operating systems time and date routines. This is where they may fail.

Read More About It

If you're interested in reading more about the Y2K problem take a look at the extensive document at www.rightime.com The document explains the Y2K problem in all its gory details. The article also contains references to dozens of Web sites that deal with all aspects of the Y2K problem from testing to patching to upgrading.

Cleaning Up

To clean up from testing, use Filer to delete TESTFILE.TXT and use Setup to reset the date to the current date and select your preferred Date Format.

Time and Time Again

..nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!

Most clocks that are built into PCs experience some "drift. For example, the clock on my desktop computer loses about 87 seconds a day. Who knows why!

Gratefully the clock on my Palmtop is much more accurate. It loses about 1 or 2 seconds a month. (I just learned that the clocks on board GPS satellites lose a second every 300 million years.)

Losing a few seconds might not be as nerve-wracking as losing a computer due to a Y2K bug in the computers firmware. However, if the clock in your PC or Palmtop triggers an alarm or starts an external piece of test equipment then accuracy could be critical.

Atomic Clock

If the clock on your Palmtop is not becoming accurate enough for you then it should be coming to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). We old-timers still call NIST the NBS (the National Bureau of Standards.)

NIST and agencies like it in other countries maintain the most accurate clocks in the world. The clocks are based on the vibration of atoms rather than pendulums or springs.

Ham radio operators have long been able to tune in to the beat of the atomic clock and get the accuracy they needed.

NIST also maintains several Web sites that will let you access an atomic clock and read the time on your computer screen.

The home page for NIST is www.nist.gov. The NIST time Web page is at www.bldrdoc.gov/timefreq/javaclck.htm

From this last Web site you can download one or two programs that you can use on your desktop computer. The NISTIMEW program will access the atomic clock using your Internet connection while the WINACTS program will contact the atomic clock via a long-distance telephone call. Both programs will report the time. They then give you the option of synchronizing your computers clock with the atomic clock.

Sad to say both these programs only work on Windows-based computers.

In the past the NIST page had a DOS version of the program called PC_TIME. That program is no longer supported by NIST. However, on the 1999 CD InfoBase and the Nov/Dec 98 issue of The HP Palmtop Paper ON DISK, we have provided a copy of the PC_TIME program with the understanding that it is no longer supported by NIST.

You can use this program along with a modem to connect your Palmtop to either the U.S. or Canadian "Atomic Clock.

The NISTIMEW Program

My method of synchronizing the clocks on both my desktop and Palmtop is slightly unusual but the method is free and does not require any new software on my Palmtop.

With the NISTIMEW program installed and running on my desktop computer, I can contact the NIST clock using my CompuServe connection to the Internet. Once the time appears on the screen, I simply click the [OK] button to synchronize the PCs clock with the atomic clock.

Synching the Palmtops Clock

With my Palmtop connected to the desktop, I open a DOS window on the desktop and run Eric Meyers ZIP.COM program. On the Palmtop I also run ZIP.COM in server mode. When I press "T on the desktops keyboard the ZIP program synchronizes the Palmtops clock with the desktops clock. Its almost too slick.

Since my Palmtop is a far better time-keeper than my desktop, I occasionally refresh the desktops clock with the Palmtops clock.

I might lose a split second but the results are good enough for me.

A DOS Only Solution

If you want a program that does the same thing but runs on the Palmtop, Id suggest the PCCLOCK program, version 4.5.

This program requires that you have a modem connected to, or installed in, your Palmtop. It will then call NIST, the United States Naval Observatory, or the Canadian atomic clock to get the exact time. It also lets you call CompuServe to get the time accurate to the minute. The program takes up about 160K of disk space and works best when it is run from the DOS prompt after you've terminated System Manager and all other programs. The program can also be used as a full-screen digital clock.

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