Hebrew University Cures Y2K Bug

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The year 2000 computer glitch that has sent programmers scrambling for solutions for the last few years has been "solved" at the last minute by an employee of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

"It took about one minute," Ben-Etzion Yaron told CNSNews.com, concerning news that he had discovered the solution to the Y2K problem for COBOL systems.

The Y2K solution was made public yesterday at a press conference at the Hebrew University. Yaron, head of manpower and payroll manager at the Department of Computerized Information Systems at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told reporters that his solution works by compressing four digits needed for the years 2000 and above into two symbols, without interfering with prior years, by using special algorithms for expanding two symbols into four digits and for compressing four digits into two symbols.

The idea, he told CNSNews.com, was prompted in 1998 by a problem in the University's Sabbatical computer program.

"Professors go abroad for one year or more and must receive dollars instead of shekels," said Yaron, who has worked for the University for almost 25 years. "Already in 1998 we had a problem because a professor was going [abroad] until 2001."

After coming up with the idea and checking it for a month, it was installed in the system. Yaron said "it has already been operating without problems for a full year."

After his initial success, Yaron, 50, continued to work on developing a universal system, eventually designing Sapir 2000, for which patents are pending in the US. With application in all computer languages and use with all computers, it is estimated to reduce the time required to convert databases to deal with the Y2K problem by 80 to 85 percent - crucial for anyone who has left the problem to the last minute.

According to a press release, "A special feature of this program is that it can identify errors in other programs that may have already been implemented as a solution for the Y2K problem, thus providing a kind of 'second opinion' for those who want to check as to whether already applied solutions have succeeded . . . [and] enables corrections to be made, if necessary."

Prof. Danny Dolev, dean of the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told CNSNews.com that he has been following up on Yaron's programs for years.

Dolev, who has worked with the Y2K Israeli Knesset committee, said that the prevalent thinking among programmers was that changing the system's date field required expanding it to include places for four numerical values. However, Yaron's solution was to use symbols in the two-digit number field instead.

The invention, according to Dolev, has been given to the Magic Software Enterprises Ltd., which will in turn market and distribute the product.

Jack Dunietz, CEO of Magic Software Enterprises Ltd., an international concern that supplies computerized solutions for companies worldwide, told CNSNews.com that Sapir 2000 was developed using a development tool of the Magic Company.

It's a "bit late as far as Y2K" goes, but, outside of the Y2K bug Sapir 2000 provides an "efficient way to handle old COBOL code," Dunietz said.

The cost for the first system is $30,000, with a reduction for each additional system per customer. However, Dunietz points out, that compared to the millions that it has cost many companies, governmental agencies and organizations, "it is relatively cheap and can be done in a fraction of the time."

"It's not really the solution to the bug," Dunietz said, but it "makes the process to solving the problem easier."

However, due to the lateness of the hour, Dunietz said it will be a challenge to market the system to entities that already are way behind in preparations. It will initially be sold in Israel before it is marketed abroad.