Wall Street Journal Newspaper Article, Tuesday, 04/14/98, p.B1
Transcript of Wall Street Journal Newspaper Article on SII's New Product, 04/14/98
SII Announces Millennium Bug Fix ProductBy a WALL STREET JOURNAL Staff Reporter
SAN FRANCISCO--Silicon Impressions Inc. (SLI), the San Francisco-based hardware and software computer company, announced yesterday afternoon an important product. Called SIIMole (pronounced "sigh mole"), the software debugger promises to greatly simplify the time consuming process of fixing computer programs so that they properly register dates in the new millennium.
The problem is well known and seems deceptively simple. When computer memory was at a premium, programmers often resorted to a two-digit abbreviation for the year in any data that was collected. So 1978 became 78 and the first two digits were just assumed to be 19. But with the turn of the millennium less than two years away, that assumption threatens to disable many critical computer systems. Many computer experts have predicted worldwide computer failures beginning on January 1, 2000. The banking industry could be affected by computer programs which believe that the year 2000 is really 1900, and calculate interest accordingly. The computer software which guides the nation's air traffic control system could also be at risk, as well as the computer software which issues the nation's social security payments. For hundreds of years there have been predictions that the end of the world would coincide with the change in the millennium. Now, doom sayers in the computer industry are predicting a financial holocaust as a result of the millennium bug. "Imagine ninety-nine year late charges on mortgage bills and 50 years of back pay on pension checks, said Ralph Bennett of Bennett Securities. "On a global scale, these kinds of errors could spell worldwide financial chaos."
"All the time, I get asked why this is such a big deal to fix. The problem is more insidious than lay-people believe," said Bob Berring of Boalt Information Services, a computer industry think-tank. "People seem to think that you should just be able to do a search and replace or something, but it's far more complicated than that. Just one problem may illustrate. The computer usually stores data like beads on a string. If the first two beads represent the year and the third bead represents the account number, you can't just add a couple of beads to the string to pad out the year. If you did that, the software, which is used to going to the third bead for the account number, would get hopelessly confused."
Until now, the only fix was to painstakingly check each line of the program to see if it was affected by a data change, and then to rewrite the software to compensate. Many companies have had teams of programmers working for years to try to avoid this problem in their computer software. With computer programs customized to each system and often consisting of well over 10,000 lines of tightly written source code, some experts were predicting that it could take until the year 2015 or even later to straighten all this out. Silicon Impression's new product SIIMole promises to greatly reduce the time needed to locate and fix these date references, without disturbing the rest of the system.
"What SIIMole does," explained Sydney Brown, SII's Vice President for Product Development, "is to read each line of source code in parallel while the compiled application is running, and create a detailed list of every date reference, date calculation, and every point where the data structure integrity could be breached."
"I'm calling it a mole," said SII's CEO, Lloyd Majors, "because it does what a mole does; it roots around in the dark, finding and devouring bugs. You can set SIIMole digging and come back to a printed guide which tells you exactly how to fix your program."
Tim Bajan of Everett Data Systems has been an enthusiastic beta tester for the new software. "Frankly, we were terrified about the effect of the millennium bug on our legacy software. This program has shown us exactly what we have to do, and it's given us peace of mind because we know we haven't missed anything. This is going to shave 90% of the time and labor necessary to fix this problem."
Industry analysts were optimistic about the new application. "It's a wonder no one developed this before," said Roger Marring of SoftScape. "The genius of this software is that it runs a compiled version right alongside the source code, so that you can see right into the heart of the code as it is executing."
Charlene Jones of Durling Financial Group was optimistic about the prospects for Silicon Impressions. "This product is a watershed because it moves them outside of the narrow special effects market that everyone else in the high end computer industry seems to be focused on. They've come up with a product that every company in America needs and will be willing to pay for. And it won't come cheap."
Unusual Trading Volume
The announcement ended speculation about SII's unusual trading volume over the last month. Shares reached a daily volume of 3.4 million on the high side, more than double SII's previous volume highs. Wall Street reacted enthusiastically to SII's product announcement, boosting the stock almost 30% to a closing high of 37 5/8.