Wake up to the 'daylight saving' bug

Y2K flashback? Turning the clock forward early is causing headaches for IT pros, and consumers should pay attention, too.

This year, daylight saving is starting early--a change that could cause Y2K-like headaches for IT professionals, and even for consumers.

Congress decided in 2005 to extend the period of daylight saving time by three weeks in spring and one in the fall, reasoning that providing more daylight in the early evening would reduce energy use. However, the shift could cause trouble with software set to automatically advance its clock by an hour on the old date, the first Sunday in April, and not on the new date, the second Sunday in March.

"There has been a great deal of speculation of what the impact could be," said M3 Sweatt, chief of staff of Microsoft's customer service team. "For most people, the most apparent issue is that meetings and reminders may appear to be off by one hour."

DST change/spring

But Microsoft may be downplaying the risk. Some say those companies that don't pay full attention to the issue are in for a rude awakening.

"We've been aware of the DST changes since late last year. But the tools and patches keep changing, or weren't available, which made it difficult to create a solid plan," said Warren Byle, a systems engineer at an insurance company. "This change might go smoothly for those who are prepared, but I think it will be the 'Y2K that wasn't' for the rest."

The move could impact time-sensitive applications other than calendaring, such as those that process sales orders or keep track of time cards. Gartner, for example, says the bug could lead to incorrect arrival and departure times in the travel industry and result in errors in bank transactions, causing late payments. In addition, trading applications might execute purchases and sales at the wrong time, and cell phone-billing software could charge peak rates at off-peak hours.

On top of that, the effect is expected to be felt around the world: Canada and Bermuda are conforming to the U.S.-mandated change, and time zone shifts have happened in other locales as well.

OS updates
Forrester Research's roundup of how the Daylight Saving Time change affects certain operating systems.
Operating systemUpdate?Reboot?
Windows Vista; Suse 10None neededNo
Windows XP (SP2); Server 2003, 2003 (SP1)AutomaticNo
Apple OS XAutomaticYes
z/OS; HP-UX; Suse 8.9; Red Hat EL, DesktopInstall patchNo
Solaris 8, 9, & 10; Aix 5.3Install patchYes
Windows XP (SP1), 2000, NTManual editYes
Source: Forrester Research

"It doesn't have to be Y2K to spell trouble for companies and governments," Phil Bond, chief executive of the Information Technology Association of America, said in a statement. "Organizations could face significant losses if they are not prepared."

The millennium bug cost cost the global economy billions of dollars, according to various reports. Analyst firm IDC predicted a price tag of $21 billion in the year 2000. The daylight saving problem "is not Y2K scale," according to a recent Gartner report, but it could generate business procedure and IT system problems that can be somewhat disruptive, the research firm said.

Microsoft and other software makers have created patches to make their products ready for the switch and have filled Web pages with tips for customers. IT pros and consumers alike have to apply those updates. Otherwise, they will have to deal with electronic clocks that may be off by an hour, for three weeks starting March 11 and again for a week in the fall, when they go back on November 4 instead of October 28.

Dealing with the patches should be straightforward for most consumers. Microsoft released a daylight saving fix for Windows XP Service Pack 2 on Tuesday, and it is pushing the patch out through the Automatic Updates feature in the operating system. An update is also available for Windows-based cell phones. However, the recently launched Windows Vista doesn't need a patch.

For businesses, getting ready is a different story. It isn't as straightforward to apply updates to Windows PCs and phones in a corporate environment, because of potential compatibility woes. Moreover, there are many other fixes that need to be applied, not just from Microsoft, but also from Oracle, IBM, Red Hat, Hewlett-Packard and other software suppliers.

Companies using Microsoft's Exchange for e-mail, for example, face a real patch challenge. Microsoft has updates for the Outlook and Entourage mail clients, and for Windows Server and Exchange Server--all of which need to be applied in a specific order and in rapid succession.

Adding to the patch challenge, Microsoft also has fixes for its SharePoint and Live Meeting collaboration tools, its Dynamics customer relationship management software and its SQL Server notification services.

"There is a lot of work to implement the needed changes," said Stance Nixon, a network systems manager at Kushner, Smith, Joanou & Gregson, an accounting firm in Irvine, Calif. "The worst part is needing to touch every computer twice--the operating system and then Outlook. Even after that we will have to manually recheck every appointment."

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