A high-principled millenium bug company single-handedly fighting a. giant hardware manufacturer claiming it's selling non-compliant stock is the stuff that makes everyone get behind the little guy. In a fight being pitched as David versus Goliath, Prove It 2000 is fighting Compaq.
Compaq is being forced to defend its claims of year 2000 compliance after it ran a bold national advertising campaign last month (PC Dealer, 27 May). The advert stated Compaq computers would not 'call it a day' on 31 December 1999 because 'every computer in our range is guaranteed to pass the National Software Testing Laboratories' (NTSL) YMark2000 hardware test'.
But Prove It 2000 claims this is because the NSTL test misses a vital ingredient. Prove It 2000 managing director Richard Coppel dismisses the company's action has anything to do with the NSTL test, which Compaq promotes as being free while Prove It 2000 costs #39.
The ASA will require Compaq to prove its claims when there is no recognised standard of compliance or, in a galling backdown, withdraw the advert.
One insider close to the company points out: 'It's quite damaging for Compaq at a time when it is losing sales.'
The millenium bug issue has provided a whole range of opportunities.
Prove It 2000 looks set for success with its good middle-of-the-road product.
According to analysis by benchmark testing company Solace Consulting, it rates better than most but is still worse than some competitors.
However, some manufacturers have already accepted there will be losses.
Compaq stated in its US annual report that successful warranty claims will cost it money.
Coppel says his interest in raising the issue is founded on his belief in doing better business. But Steve Torbe, Compaq UK year 2000 manager, says: 'There are a lot of people trying to make money out of it who have a vested interest.'
One element is the technical argument over testing a computer's real-time clock (RTC), which the Prove It 2000 product checks for and the NSTL test doesn't. The counter argument runs that there is no point in testing the RTC because the computer, and almost all software on it, ignores this third clock. It will only affect a computer if it has software that checks for the date - and nobody has yet to find any.
Solace Consultancy notes that after testing dozens of diagnostic and fix packages thousands of times on dozens of PCs: 'Some packages may also call the RTC directly although we are not aware of any off the shelf packages that do so'.
Compaq claims its compliance stands are only ever hardware based. It makes no claim about software, or the way software interacts with hardware.
Damien Lochran, NSTL UK year 2000 manager, says: 'Compaq is right in what it says (about the RTC) but it is wrong to over emphasise it.' He says it is about 'quantifying the risk'. It is rare for the RTC to be accessed for date information but those who want total reassurance might as well check everything.
'I don't see the point in going into a large company and telling it 90 per cent of its PCs aren't compliant when its PCs don't check the RTC,' he adds. 'The thing about YMark2000 is we don't charge for it and that ruins the market.'
According to the NSTL, the YMark2000 test was developed especially for the Canadian Government and was then picked up by Compaq, followed later by Dell, Fujitsu/ICL Hewlett Packard as well as other manufacturers.
If it was a special effort for the Canadians, it seems to have gone largely unnoticed. The government's millennium bug assistant programme manager Kevin Wilson says the YMark2000 test is rarely used. He says individual departments decide what they use for testing and some considered the NSTL test had 'limitations'.
One tester is Brian Maxim, who has tested about 5,000 PCs for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency using YMark2000. Any limitations have been recognised and dealt with by adding his own 'clip-ons'. He says: 'It's stable, and a big upside is that it's free. We don't have the budget to use a lot of tools. We are using it with a few other utilities (for completeness).'
Solace Consultancy MD Mark Gibson says much rests on what computers are used for. But if computers were being used in a nucleur power plant without having the RTC tested, he would move as far away as possible. So why take a chance?
Solace found YMark2000 'reports accurately on all tests performed although fails to address some critical areas.' It scored at the lower range of hardware testers.
Gibson is about to upset the mass-marketing millennium bug industry by releasing an easy no-cost home-fix for the home user and small business.
It's a list of simple instructions on a single sheet of paper. He believes diagnostic and fix companies are making money out of the millennium bug in areas that don't need to worry about it.
If Compaq does have to explain itself to the Advertising Standards Authority, in its favour is the regulatory authority's dislike for doomsaying millennium bug companies.
It has already rapped other fix and test companies over the knuckles for scaremongering because it decided 18 months ago the millennium bug would 'affect few PCs' and those that were affected would suffer only 'minor problems'.
If Prove It 2000 doesn't get its way, expect to see it using this as the sharp end of an attack against the ASA. Then we'll see David and two Goliaths.
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