alt.screenwriters

The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

February 1999

by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 4 January 99 Copyright ©1999 alt.screenwriters

We’ve just rolled into the last year of this century, and before you can say “byte me,” we’re here to warn fellow screenwriters everywhere: this is the countdown to Y2K. On January 1, 2000 – look out.

Okay, we know you’re already Y2K’d to death. You’ve been told not to fly the friendly skies as the clock strikes 12 and rings in the new millenium. Stay off elevators. Beware of your microwaves. On New Year’s Day we all know there will be riots in the streets because supermarket cash registers will no longer work. Computer hard drives around the world will be instantaneously erased, missile silos will launch their wares, and VCRs everywhere will shut off right in the middle of the best part of your favorite movie, never to run again. But aside from these annoyances, is there anything a professional screenwriter should worry about?

Well, maybe

For computer and word processor users, the Y2K problem can SNAFU both your hardware and software. Your system has an internal clock, and the first question is — when the ball drops in Times Square (on tape delay on the West Coast, of course) — will the system clock realize it’s the year 2000? If you’re using a Macintosh of any vintage: no problem. (But don’t go feeling smug yet: keep reading.) If you’ve bought a “Wintel” computer in the last 18 months: probably no problem. (Ditto.) But if you’re using an older IBM-compatible PC: big problem.

Chances are excellent that an older, non-Macintosh computer system will think it’s January 1, 1980 — which for personal computers is sort of “Year Zero.” The next time you create or modify a file, that file will be date-stamped incorrectly. If you ever use file datestamps to choose, categorize, or sort files, or if datestamps help you determine which draft of a script is which, this is a serious concern. If you use a software command or macro to insert the current date, you also lose out. And if you never insert a date or look at a file datestamp, read on: you’re not out of the woods yet.

Many pre-1997 system clocks will rollover the date incorrectly — BUT, if you manually input the date on January 1, 2000 (using the old DOS Date command, which you can access at the system prompt, and using all 4 digits for the year), the system may get back on the right track. (Win95 users can get to the DOS prompt by pressing Shift-F5 when you boot up.) In other words, Y2K is a pain in the ass, but may be fixable.

However, there is a second hardware hurdle to overcome: the BIOS (Basic Input Output System), which exists on a chip on your motherboard. The BIOS usually maintains its own timekeeping routines, and guess what? It is possible to have a system clock that negotiates the year 2000, and a BIOS that doesn’t. This will definitely confuse your computer when it comes to dates. A Y2K upgrade board that’ll solve these hardware problems exists for some computers (JDR is one source), but the better solution is probably to buy a new computer. (Note to alt.screenwriters stockbroker: buy up Dell and Compaq – they’ll go through the roof the last couple months of 1999.)

Don’t want to wait until 1/1/00 to find out if you’re a dead duck? There are several utilities that will test out how your system will handle the rollover to the new millenium, many of them free for downloading (www.rightime.com and www.nstl.com are two sites for starters).

Now, even if you bought a computer last week, you may still have a ticking timebomb on your desk, because the next stop on our Y2K tour is your software. By the way, smug Mac users, listen up. Now you’re in the same boat as the rest of us. Here’s the problem: your computer may be happy with a new century – your software may not be. The technical phrase for good software, Y2K speaking, is “Y2K-compliant.” Since Microsoft owns the world and we just live in it, a visit to Microsoft’s Y2K site may be worth your time. It lists all the Microsoft programs tested to date — as well as the programs the company’s still testing and others it has no plans whatsoever to test.

Those of you still using Word-for-DOS (we know you’re out there), you’re in trouble. Word-for-DOS version 5 will start corrupting files if you edit them after 1999. At the very least, you’re going to have to move to DOS version 5.5 (but good luck finding it!) — or maybe break down and finally move to Windows. (Microsoft will not even bother testing Word-for-DOS version 4, but it probably contains the same bug.)

Internet Explorer version 3 for the Mac is also deemed non-compliant, though it doesn’t appear to be quite as destructive as our last software saboteur. But IE3/Mac won’t handle Webpage dates correctly, or time cookies, caches and other web-surfing ingredients properly. If you use the Web, it’s gotta go. An upgrade to version 4 will take care of things.

The last Windows 3.1 versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access are mostly compliant, though there may be some problems of properly importing date macros from non- native files. Office 95 or Office 97, or Office 98 on the Mac? Home clear.

WordPerfect? Head to the Corel Y2K homepage, and you can check out the ongoing testing on the different versions. WordPerfect-for-DOS, versions 5 and 6, had not been tested as we write this. All versions of WordPerfect for Windows have been designated compliant. If you’re using one of the template add-ons for WordPerfect or Word (e.g., Script Wizard), there shouldn’t be any additional worries beyond what we’ve outlined above — they will take all their cues from the underlying software.

Wordstar? XyWrite? Multimate? God help you on any of those old DOS packages. It may finally be time to move into the 20th century just as the rest of us are leaving it.

What of the dedicated screenwriting packages? Final Draft, ScriptWare, ScriptThing, Movie Magic, Dramatica, Scriptor … let’s face it, it’s hard to keep track of ’em all. So far, our research has not turned up any ticking timebombs. Says Scriptware’s Spencer Casey: “ScriptWare … has no problem with Y2K.” Final Draft sings the same song. This seems to be the general consensus amongst the dedicated packages — but there are so many different versions of these packages that we strongly encourage you to contact the vendor to find out if they have tested compliance.

If the last time you bought software was when George Bush was president, we’ d like to suggest that it might be time to think about upgrading. Cheer up. A recent issue of The Hollywood Reporter indicated that Disney is spending $261 million to deal with their Y2K problem.

If all of these potential solutions still leave you feeling a bit disheartened, we ask that you think about 999 A.D. a moment. In Western Europe, the Hindu-Arabic decimal system was brand new, and the concept of zero (0) was still unknown.

Talk about your Y1K non-compliance!



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Written by tborst

January 4, 1999 at 2:03 am

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