Millennium Bug Watch

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The Independent Online
TIME-TRAVELLERS may find a home at Sainsbury's supermarket in Exebridge, near Exeter, from next Monday. For a month or so, the date inside the shop will roll forward to 1999 and (computing staff hope) on to the year 2000, rather than back to 1900.

The Exebridge store will be used to test 90 different systems - freezers, fire alarms, security systems, check-outs, and computers - which use "embedded chips", whose software cannot be altered.

"It's a test of all the equipment that we use to run our stores," explained a spokeswoman.

The plan is to keep pushing the dates forward into 1999 and beyond, seeing what happens if the machines are left on, or alternatively turned off and then back on, over "crucial midnights".

Why? Ian Coull, a Sainsbury's director, told Computer Weekly magazine: "In pre-testing, some of the systems have survived the date change, then reverted to 1900 after being switched off and then on again."

Still, shoppers need not worry about being caught in a bug-prone store.

The supermarket is closing down on Sunday and all the stock is being moved to a bigger, new store near by - although the Exebridge store's manager, who hadn't heard of the plans, reckons it will take him until Wednesday to get the stock out. If you are passing and hear someone banging on the doors trying to get out...

Charles Arthur