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Advertising watchdog okays Compaq Y2K claims

PC companies only responsible for their hardware -- not the system as a whole

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The UK's advertising industry watchdog, the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), rejected complaints that Compaq advertisements claiming full Year 2000 compliance were misleading. The ruling provides a neat 'get out of Y2K hassles' card for hardware vendors -- even if a system as a whole isn't Y2K compliant, as long as your hardware will deal with the Year 2000, you're safe. The question of the validity of Compaq's claims were raised by UK Y2K testing company Prove IT 2000. It claimed that while Compaq PCs' BIOS may be able to cope with the change from 1999 to 2000, their real-time clock (RTC) was not certified for Y2K compliance. Compaq's ads said: "Will your computer call it a day on 31st Dec 1999? Ours won't. Every computer in our range is guaranteed to pass the National Software Testing Laboratories' YMARK2000 hardware test." However, "the Authority understood from expert advice that virtually all commercially available software took the date from the BIOS and direct interrogation of the RTC was generally discouraged," said the ASA report into the complaints. "The Authority accepted, therefore, that the hardware of Compaq was ready for the Year 2000." Or rather, that Compaq PCs are ready for the Year 2000 as per US company National Software Testing Laboratories' (NSTL) YMARK2000 certification programme, which is essentially all that Compaq claimed, according to its VP and general manager of the Enterprise Solutions Division, Ronnie Ward. NSTL claims its YMARK2000 software tests for both BIOS and RTC Y2K compliance. Some 50-odd Compaq machines were tested by NSTL and passed for Y2K compliance, according to NTSC's Web site. Prove IT 2000 also claimed that Compaq's advertising gave "the impression that those who bought a Compaq computer would not suffer disruption after the year 2000". Again, the ASA ruled that this was not misleading since Compaq said it "meant the advertisement to highlight only the year 2000 readiness of their hardware. They assumed that, because Compaq was widely known as a hardware company, readers would take that meaning". However, this is more of a moot point, since most buyers buy a computer system not specific hardware and, separately, a specific OS -- they therefore expect the whole thing to work post 2000, and may not be too happy when Windows 95 falls over (Microsoft has admitted Windows 95 may never be Y2K complaint) even though the hardware hasn't, since without a functioning OS hardware alone is effectively useless. Still, the ASA and its experts are clearly happy that Compaq has done all it needs do to keep its customers computing. ®

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