Y2K and Macs
by Igor Sidorkin

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Shakespeare, "Hamlet", Act I, scene 4.

First thing first - a quote from "Apple Computer, Inc., Year 2000 Compliance Statement":
"The Apple Year 2000 Compliance Statement refers to all Apple-branded hardware and software products as originally delivered by Apple indicated as compliant on this website."
Pay attention, it says "all...indicated as compliant on this website" not just "all" as one might think.

Let's proceed to Apple's "Year 2000 readiness disclosure", which is actually on the same page as the compliance statement, to see what Apple wants to tell us in respect to Y2K: "The good news is that since their introduction in 1984, Macintosh computers have had the ability to make the transition to the year 2000." Sounds pretty optimistic, but what is the bad news?

The bad news, according to Apple, is that "Computer systems that cannot correctly process dates beyond 2000 are at risk of failure one second after midnight on December 31, 1999."A lot of money will be spent on Y2K remediation and users of other computer platforms; those who did not choose Mac should be sorry now for what they did. Well, this means that I will have to tell you myself the bad news about your Mac. Of course, Apple remains my main source for references, so you won't think I am making something up.

What else can we learn from Apple's Y2K site? Here is their original discovery, that they are so eager to share with us, they put it at the very beginning of their Y2K website:
"According to Information Week, the tab for the Year 2000 software fix alone will hit $600 billion." - and further - "That $600 billion is enough to buy iMacs for every man, woman and child in the United States - plus everyone in Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, France, Greece and Guatemala."

I have another example of equally reasonable spending. According to PC Magazine (July 1999) since Bill Gates' net worth topped $85 billion he has enough money to provide every single person on the planet with the next Mariah Carey CD.

But let's take a closer look at Apple's example. From Information Week's article you can see that $600 billion is the estimated total cost for 2000 compliance worldwide, not just the "software fix alone" as Apple says. Total cost also includes the cost of management, testing, replacing and upgrading all kinds of devices with non-compliant embedded chips, etc. It also includes the cost of computer hardware upgrades, such as the one described in the same article (how ironic!) that Apple refers to, "A year 2000 manager at a U.S. university with more than 1,800 Apple Macintosh PCs had been assured that the machines were immune; then he learned that year 2000-compliant versions of the applications the university uses require a larger Mac platform-and a $2 million upgrade."

This is not just casual oversight that Apple's Y2K site begins with half-truths. Unfortunately, it is a very appropriate illustration of exactly how Mac users have been mislead all along. Have you not heard zillions of time that if you have a Mac then you have nothing to worry about? Yes, that's the one.

Now, the bad news: Y2K affects all desktop users regardless of platform. The problems most likely to be encountered fall into these four main levels:

There are three more layers - the code layer, the data exchange layer and the legal layer, but they are out of our scope. The page you are reading now is the first page that addresses all four technical layers of the Y2K problem for Macintosh computers. It is also one of very few pages that talks about Macs in respect toY2K.

A Mac user has no less Y2K worries than, say, a PC user. They both have to spend some time addressing Y2K issues. There is, actually, slight difference in a pattern of that time - Mac users will definitely save couple of minutes on the hardware layer, but probably lose a couple more hours on the data layer. But I have some good news too - neither has to spend a penny to make their system Y2K compliant!


This is the easiest part for most Mac users, because most computers manufactured by Apple are Y2K compliant. Why "most"? If you have read Apple's "Year 2000 readiness disclosure" carefully (see quote above) you probably noticed that it only refers to "Macs" and not other lines of computers manufactured by Apple. These two pages - "Hardware" and "Test results" - will make this more clear.

There are a few Apple manufactured lines - NeXT, Apple II, Apple III, Lisa, and a few models within the Apple Macintosh line - Macintosh 128K, Macintosh 512K, Macintosh 512Ke and Macintosh XL (a refitted Lisa with an internal hard drive), which will not be tested by Apple and were never claimed by Apple to be compliant.

In reviewing hardware with respect to Y2K we need to pay attention to three aspects:

  • Whether or not hardware is affected by Y2K problems and propagates them to the next layers - the operating system layer and the application layer.
  • Whether or not hardware meets system requirements of any OS, which is known to be Y2K compliant. (Without this one we would have to count every GameBoy as a Y2K compliant computer.)
  • Compliance status according to Apple.


There is nothing in respect to Y2K about Apple I, or Apple III, or Lisa, or NeXT computers on Apple's website. Those models were not widely used and represent a rather historical and collectible interest (for example, original Apples nowadays cost more than the most recent state of the art PowerMacs do). The Apple II line is another story. There were millions of these sold and some of them are still in use. From here you can get all the information available on Apple's site about Y2K and this line, which is these four sentences:

"Before introducing the Macintosh, Apple delivered several models of the Apple II computer, a number of which are still in use today. The ability of Apple II computers to handle dates after the year 2000 vary by model. For example, an Apple IIgs, running System 6.0 or later and GS-specific software, should have no problems with dates beyond the year 2000; whereas users of an Apple IIgs systems running 8-bit applications will need to load ProDOS 8 Version 2.0 or later to ensure that the applications continue to handle those dates correctly. The Apple II, II+, IIe, IIc, and IIc+ do not have a system clock, but third-party clocks are available that can correctly handle the year 2000 and beyond."

If you are a bit confused about system clocks and models without them, I can assure you that the hardware part of such models is going to be just fine. Since the system has no hardware clock, maintaining correct date and time depends on the user and the operating system only. Every time such a system starts up the user has to enter date and time and OS has to correctly accept and process them. Since hardware has nothing to do with date and time, it does not produce and is not affected by any date-related problems, including Y2K. Although, such models are not compliant, that is only because Y2K compliance is not applicable to them, as it is not applicable to PC XT or the abacus.

Although phrases like "should have no problems" sound a bit strange when spoken by the manufacturer (see quote above), I basically agree that it would not make sense to discuss the architecture of old Apple computers or Apple's old operating systems - DOS, ProDOS, GS/OS, etc. (If that upsets you and/or you are interested in pre-Macs, then you should visit www.apple2.org.) Such computers are not likely to be used in businesses nowadays (actually they never were) and have been widely replaced in schools, where they used to be very popular. If someone is still running some primitive games or a word processor on a pre-Mac, Y2K is the last thing they should be worrying about.

  • Hardware itself: pre-Macs are Y2K indifferent - neither are affected by nor cause date-related problems.
  • OS supported: pre-Macs are not capable to run OS, which is known to be Y2K compliant.
  • Apple will not test them.


With exclusion of the Macintosh XL, which should be in our pre-Mac category, all Macs have a hardware clock. That clock is called Real-Time Clock (RTC) and is a part of an integrated circuit (IC), which is called clock chip and consists of RTC and parameter RAM (PRAM). This IC is powered by internal battery, so when the computer is off, the clock is running and PRAM retains essential settings. Since PRAM and RTC are powered by the same battery, i.e. are always reset simultaneously (because of battery failure or PRAM zapping), one might think that PRAM also stores current time. You can even read that it is so in one of Apple's Tech Info Library articles (see answer to the first question). This is not correct. (Here is more info about PRAM and Glossary.)

Here is how it works. The clock chip has a four-byte counter, which is incremented each second. That gives 4,294,967,295 seconds or a little more than 136 years. Thus, hardware supports any given 136 year span and is indifferent to what moment of time will be chosen to count from. It is also up to OS what to do when counter reaches its limit and restarts from zero.

  • Hardware itself: Macs are Y2K compliant. They support 136 year spans.
  • OS supported: With some exclusions any Mac is capable to run Mac OS, which is known to be Y2K compliant. The exclusions are four of the aforementioned models.
  • According to Apple with the same exclusions all Macs are compliant.

PC Cards and funny Apple

If you have a PC compatible Macintosh, you actually have two computers in a one box - a Mac and a PC. Do you think your Apple PC is better than others? Well, given Apple's psychic attack, you might. So, what is the compliance status of your Mac's PC part according to Apple? It falls into the "will not test" category. Surprised? Wait, there's more.

I did not have a chance to test all of Apple's PC Cards. But the ones I did test are non-compliant, as are most other PCs manufactured at the same time. Fortunately, as for any other non-compliant PC, very little effort is needed to achieve a compliance level sufficient for any desktop computer.

Here is a list of these cards, extracted from "complete" list:
7" 100 MHz PC Card
12" 100 MHz PC Card
12"1 66 MHz-P PC Card
12"1 66 6x86 PC Card

(The last two names may look strange but that is how Apple listed them. I guess, what they meant is 12" 166.) If you don't see your card here you might even think for a second that your card is compliant. I hate to disappoint you, but that's why I call Apple's list "complete". The 486 processor-based cards are not in this list, neither is the Macintosh Performa 630CD DOS Compatible - the model with such card, nor the Macintosh Performa 520, nor the Macintosh Performa 588CD. Frankly, I did not care to check other lines (e.g. Power Macintosh).

But the most amazing thing, regarding these cards, is what Apple says about them in their Year 2000 FAQ, question 4. Here is a quote:

4) Question: Will the Apple PC Compatibility or DOS Compatibility card be able to handle the year 2000?
Answer: DOS supports years 1980 through 2099. Follow these steps to set the date:
For DOS, use the date command by typing "DATE " at the DOS prompt.
Format the date as: "mm-dd-yy" for years 1980 - 1999, or "mm-dd-yyyy" for years 1980-2099.
Windows 3.x
For Windows 3.x, use the Date & Time Control Panel found in the Main Program group. Set the date and time by selecting the value clicking the arrows. NOTE: The four digit year format can be selected in the International Control Panel.
Windows 95
For Windows 95, use the Date & Time Control Panel found in the Start Menu, Settings, Control Panel. Set the date and time by selecting the value and changing with arrows.

Newer applications should also not have a problem with full year dates (2xxx), check with the vendor or test the application.

The answer is so ridiculous, that it tops Apple's shy and funny moves with their "will not test" statement. The question is about hardware compliance. They could not say "yes, it will" because that is not true, and they could not say "no" and admit that some of their products are non-compliant. So, instead of answering the question about hardware compliance they are telling us about how to use software. And what is that? It is neither about how to test PC cards, nor about how to prevent possible problems. What is described here are the instructions for what to do in January 2000 when the PC side will have failed century rollover (...it will and they know that).

By the way, do you think they got those instructions right? DOS DATE command does not format date as Apple "tips" you, it sets date. And one more thing, according to Microsoft, DOS supports years 1980 through 2107. 2099 is the maximum value for valid year on a PC because of a ROM BIOS limitation.

Besides PC cards manufactured by Apple there are cards manufactured by other companies. But no matter what company manufactured your PC card there is no reason not treat them as a regular PC. So, just follow PC track dealing with these cards. You will learn how to close this door before thieves have come instead of after they have left.

Operating system

Remember the quote from "Apple Computer, Inc., Year 2000 Compliance Statement" where we started? "The Apple Year 2000 Compliance Statement refers to all Apple-branded hardware and software products as originally delivered by Apple indicated as compliant on this website." Now we are about to find out whether or not all versions of Mac OS are compliant according to Apple.

"...Apple has tested the latest supported versions of the Macintosh system software; System 7.5.5, System 7.6.1, Mac OS 8.1, Mac OS 8.5, 8.5.1 and Mac OS 8.6. If customers have earlier versions of Macintosh system software (eg. 7.5.3, 7.6, or 8.0) they should update their system software to one of these tested versions to ensure Year 2000 compliance. Updaters are available for free download from Apple Software Updates.

For customers with earlier versions of Macintosh system software (eg. 6.0, 7.0 or 7.1), System 7.5.3 and the software to update it to System 7.5.5 are available for free download from Apple Software Updates."

That was a quote from Apple's "Year 2000 readiness disclosure. Operating Systems." and I did not change it a single bit. Therefore, do not ask me why one link, which should lead you to page for downloading System 7.5.3, actually misleads you to another page, where you might mistakenly download "System 7.5.3 Update Revision 2". Although the name of this piece of software is very similar to the one you might need, it is absolutely a different thing. I can only tell you that this link has been unchanged for months and it is not me, who is an Apple fan.

Anyway, instead of searching for OS upgrades on Apple's site you can download them from here. Unless you feel comfortable running an operating system with unknown Y2K compliance status, which was not thoroughly tested.

Before we leave Apple's "Year 2000 readiness disclosure. Operating Systems." page, one more of their false claims should not go unnoticed. It is not Y2K related but gives us one more example of the quality of the information provided on Apple's website. On this page (and on many other pages as well) Apple makes mean, ambiguous and misleading claims about what is the 30,081 B.C. - 29,940 A.D. time span.

Apple says: "The code inside every Macintosh has been written to get the day and date right all the way through the year 29,940."
In fact: Well, that might be true but those, who have written that code, have not succeeded.

Apple says: "The current version of the Mac OS Date & Time control panel is Year 2000 compliant, but constrains user input to dates between January 1, 1920, and December 31, 2019. Well in advance of the year 2019, the Date & Time control panel will be revised to support future dates, using OS utilities that can handle time all the way to the year 29,940 A.D."
In fact should be: "... in advance of the year 2019, if we still support that OS, the Date & Time control panel will be revised to support future dates up to the year 2040." However, the chances are good that by this time hardware platforms will change and/or a new advanced OS will be written.

Apple says: "The current date and time utilities, documented in Inside Macintosh: Operating System Utilities, cover dates from 30,081 B.C. to 29,940 A.D."
In fact should be: "Most of the current date and time utilities, documented in Inside Macintosh: Operating System Utilities, cover dates from 1904 to 2040, but some of these utilities support dates from 30,081 B.C. to 29,940 A.D."

What they achieved is that many users think that a Mac OS can work fine until the year 29,940, which is incorrect, because any of current Mac OS versions will go nuts in the year 2040. Let me give you an example. Let's say the current year is 2041. If application asks Mac OS "How old a person would be in the year 2041 if he was born in the year 2000?", Mac OS' answer will be 41. But, if application asks "How old is person born in the year 2000?", Mac OS' answer will be -95 (minus 95), because the current date for the OS and for the application will be 1905 instead of 2041. That's the difference. Mac OS supports dates from 30,081 B.C. to 29,940 A.D. for calculations and comparisons. The supported range for current date is from 1904 to 2040.

As you remember, Macintosh hardware supports any given 136-year span and is indifferent to what moment of time will be chosen to count from. At start up system software uses a function ReadDateTime to copy 32-bit value from the clock chip into low memory. Since that moment the OS treats this value as the number of seconds elapsed since midnight, January 1, 1904. Simple calculations give us 6:28:15 a.m. on February 6, 2040 as the end of the chosen time span. That 32-bit value is an initial value for the system global variable Time. The OS updates the value of this global variable each second and makes date-time information accessible through it. If the application needs to get the current date-time it can use either the same ReadDateTime function, which is not recommended by Apple, or either of these two procedures - GetDateTime and GetTime. Either way the application gets current date-time within 1904 - 2040 range. For more details see these two pages. 1, 2.

To upgrade, or not to upgrade

Someone might say: "So what if my version of OS was not tested and Y2K compliance is unknown? I feel confident my computer is compliant because of the information I got from Apple's website. In the article "The Mac OS and the Year 2000: Approaching the New Millennium" as in many other ones Apple states "that Apple Macintosh and Mac OS-compatible computers will have no problem working as expected well into the 21st century" and "Since its introduction, the Macintosh has had the ability to correctly handle the year 2000 and beyond". This makes me believe that although my version of OS was not tested it is Y2K OK. It is not junky Windows after all."

This is a prevailing Mac user attitude and is exactly what this page is intended to change. I have already shown you that you should not believe everything Apple says because sometimes it is simply not true and sometimes it just sounds good but means nothing. If you are still hypnotized by Apple's Y2K scants, let's take closer look at that one. Shall we?

They state: "The good news is that Apple Macintosh and Mac OS-compatible computers will have no problem working as expected well into the 21st century". I agree that it is "good" and it is "news". However, I would like to ask about the rest: "How do you know? Did you test it?" - "No, we did not and we will not", - answers Apple in their "Year 2000 readiness disclosure", which is quoted above. Obviously, they could not know for sure what they stated. They just either believe in that or want users to believe.

Thus, the question remains - what makes them think so. Here is how Apple "supports" this claim:

"The problem is that most personal computer systems in use today are running operating systems based on a standard two-digit date format, typically MM/DD/YY for U.S.-based systems. This date format forces these operating systems to use two digits to represent and store the year. Simple, right? But a hypothetical comparison based on that format would falsely claim that the year 2000 (i.e., 00) falls before the year 1999 (i.e., 99). If the computer's system clock reads the date incorrectly, then all mission-critical applications and even scheduled backups are predicted to fail.

Take heart Apple fans! Since its introduction, the Macintosh has had the ability to correctly handle the year 2000 and beyond. This capability is due to the fact that since the first Macintosh 128K rolled off the production line in 1984, the Macintosh operating system used a 32-bit value to store seconds, starting at 12:00:00 a.m., January 1, 1904 and ending with 6:28:15 a.m. on February 6, 2040."

Let's take a closer look at the logic behind Apple's words:

  1. Whether or not the OS will have a problem is determined by date format OS is based on.
  2. Other OS's are based on "bad" date format.
  3. This "bad" date format, which other OS's are based on, causes problems.
  4. Mac OS is based on another type of date format.
  5. Obviously, such date format should not cause Y2K problems.

The conclusion, that Mac OS will have no problem, would be correct. It would be but it is not. That is because most of Apple arguments are incorrect. Let's analyze them one by one:

  1. Apple says: "The problem is that most personal computer systems in use today are running operating systems based on a standard two-digit date format, typically MM/DD/YY for U.S.-based systems."
    In fact: The compliance status of operating systems or any other complex software product depends on many factors and because of product complexity it can be ensured only by thorough testing.
  2. Apple says: "... most personal computer systems in use today are running operating systems based on a standard two-digit date format, typically MM/DD/YY for U.S.-based systems."
    In fact: Among currently used OS for personal computers none are based on such date format. It is a well-known fact "that most personal computer systems in use today are running" either Windows or MS-DOS. As any other OS that are not based on such date format.
  3. Apple says: "This date format forces these operating systems to use two digits to represent and store the year."
    In fact: Since nothing "forces these operating systems" none of them "use two digits to" store the year. However, both Windows and Mac OS can represent years in two-digit or four-digit format depending on user's settings but there is nothing wrong with such OS' ability.
  4. Apple says: "... most personal computer systems in use today are running operating systems based on a standard two-digit date format", but "the Macintosh operating system used a 32-bit value to store seconds" instead.
    In fact: It is a smart way to handle dates. Though, it does not make Mac OS unique or even special. For example, Windows uses a 64-bit field that counts 100 nanosecond segments from the year 1601 and which runs out roughly in the year 29,601. According to Apple's logic Windows will work smoothly until that year. In fact it will not. It also requires Y2K patches. The same story with Mac OS' 32-bit value. It cannot guarantee that the OS will work properly until the year 2040. It can't even guarantee that OS will not have problems in the year 2000. Thus, what Apple actually says here is only that since their introduction in 1984 the Macintosh operating system does not support current dates beyond 2040.
  5. Apple says: "... the Macintosh operating system used a 32-bit value to store seconds, starting at 12:00:00 a.m., January 1, 1904 and ending with 6:28:15 a.m. on February 6, 2040" meaning that since year 2000 is within this span, no Y2K problems can occur because of this date format.
    In fact: That is correct, but without (1), which incorrectly states that Y2K compliance is determined by date-time format that OS is based on, it does not give us too much. Notwithstanding OS will not have Y2K problems because of internal date-time format, it does not mean anymore (as it did according to Apple's reasoning) that Y2K problems cannot occur because of something else. Furthermore, regardless of OS (MS-DOS, Windows 95, Windows NT, SCO UnixWare, Sun OS, Solaris, IRIX, AIX, HP-UX, Tru64 Unix, Ultrix etc) Y2K problems within OS do occur and always because of that "something else", which, by the way, is usually not so obvious to find because of its tiny impact.

To sum up, talking about untested versions of Mac OS Apples makes non-confirmed claims about them and lies about other OS. Do you still feel confident that it is not important in respect toY2K to upgrade your OS to a compliant version? Do you still take these latex salesman wannabes seriously?


For some of you it is obvious, for others it could be news that Mac applications with Y2K problems do exist. Of course, such applications have to be updated or even replaced. But how could you find out whether or not there is a problem with application you use?

I am not going to suggest to you such nonsense as testing applications by yourself. It would be an awful waste of time and absolutely meaningless unless you are an IT professional and being paid for it. What would make sense is to delegate testing to the vendor and to see what they came up with. So, visit vendor's web site for every application you are concern about. If you need an update you will get it right away. This will not take long even if you do not know vendor's Internet address - just jump to my resource page.

If you use a lot of applications you can prioritize and speed up the process of gathering information and updates from vendors' websites. Here is how. There are about 60 applications for Macintosh, which have known Y2K related problems. Go to http://www.macnologist.com/y2k/ and follow "The Not-So-Compliant List" link to get that list. Also visit the discussion board on that site to check for recent updates to the list submitted by other users.

For today there is only one application intended to help you to search for problematic software on your Mac that I am aware of. It is distributed as shareware and downloadable from http://www.peda.com/y2ksa/download.html.

I personally think this application may be useful for those who do not know about Macnologist's page (see link above). But, since you do know, the only reason to download and play with it would be extreme boredom. It is free to try, anyway.

Obviously, Y2K is not the only reason to keep your applications updated. There are many of them. However, the more applications you have, the more time consuming it will be to track them for updates. Version Tracker - free web-based service - can help you to be on top of that. This site features lists of updates released in the last two days and in the last 15 days prior to last two days. There is also a very handy search engine to perform narrowed searches through their big database of updates. I think that Version Tracker is very good and a real help for Mac users. However, what they do not provide you with is the opportunity to download updates automatically. You can get that from Version Master for $19.95 per year. The problem here is that Version Master's list of updates is shorter than Version Tracker's list.


If you have no date-related data (e.g. spreadsheets, databases), then you can just stop here. Thank you for being concerned about Y2K and happy computing!

Are you still here? Oh, jeez, sorry, but it really can get ugly. Macintosh users who have date-related data meet real problems here. This is the most difficult level to deal with because it cannot be accomplished by a couple of clicks as needed to update software. All files have to be analyzed and problematic ones have to be fixed manually. Specifically designed applications can assist you in narrowing this search but as for today there are no such applications for Mac.

The simplest and free workaround I see is to copy data into a PC. There it can be tested by one of many available tools. See more about such tools for PCs here. Visit IST's website. They are knowledgeable folks who make powerful (and expensive) Y2K tools for IT shops. I strongly recommend reading their "Seven things to know".

For Mac enthusiasts, who happen to be home users without access to a PC, I suggest buying Windows software emulator, otherwise prepare yourself to check spreadsheets and other data files file by file, macro by macro, column by column with no tools to automate this process, remaining proud of Macintosh's compliance on the hardware level.

Updated: October 15, 1999 [Home]