Daylight-saving change could confuse gadgets

President Bush has signed a law changing daylight-saving time in 2007, raising the possibility of glitches in PCs and electronic gear.

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
3 min read
When eBay's clocks failed to jump forward an hour in 2001 to reflect daylight-saving time, the timing on auctions ran into snags, prompting some head-scratching from sellers and bidders.

At the time, eBay blamed the glitch on a bug in Microsoft's Visual C++ code. Microsoft had released a fix.

On Monday, President Bush signed a sweeping energy bill that will lengthen daylight-saving time by four weeks starting in 2007--raising the possibility of a smaller-scale repeat of Y2K-like problems.

For most computer users, the effect would likely be an inconvenience at worst: Their computers will be updated with new software by then, or configured to connect to network time servers that will know the correct time. But because not everyone's computer is networked or updated, some glitches could occur--especially in consumer electronics devices that aren't designed to be reprogrammed.

"If they're running systems that are not auto-updated, they'll have to be cognizant to make those changes themselves," said Mike Wendy, a representative for the Computing Technology Industry Association. "That will involve a modicum of some sort of education to the community to ensure that that occurs."

Companies may have to assign additional resources to the shift, Wendy added, perhaps designating some employees to work "two to three hours on a Sunday night before the change" to ensure that the patches do the job.

For its part, Microsoft promises that its software will be altered to reflect the new law. "We're aware of the upcoming change, and will make sure that Windows handles the transition smoothly," Peter Houston, senior director of Windows servicing strategy, said in an e-mail message.

More complex networks of computers, such as systems that run power plants or financial institutions, would likely have to undertake more intense reprogramming, which could prove costly, said Robert Cresanti, vice president for policy for the Business Software Alliance.

"Those systems are generally nonstandard and so they're unique to that institution," said Cresanti, a staff member on the Senate special committee on the Y2K rollover. "I think there'd probably be some more work that needs to be done there."

Rep. Fred Upton, R.-Mich., and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., proposed the daylight-saving shift as an amendment to the mammoth Energy Policy Act of 2005. The measure tops 1,700 pages and covers everything from nuclear power facilities to energy-efficient buildings. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives signed off on it before heading off on their August recess.

Under the bill, Americans in the 48 states that currently observe daylight-saving time (Arizona and Hawaii don't) would move their clocks ahead by an hour starting on the second Sunday of March, rather than the first Sunday of April. They would set clocks back an hour on the first Sunday of November, rather than the last Sunday of October. The changes would take effect beginning one year after the law's enactment or March 1, 2007, whichever date comes later.

The four-week extension could save the equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil per day in energy use, the House Energy and Commerce committee claims.

The bill charges the Department of Energy with evaluating the precise effects on energy use and gives Congress the option of reverting to the 2005 daylight-saving time schedule after the study is complete.

The government's reasoning behind daylight saving time is that people will use less electricity for lighting if they have extra daylight later in the evening. The practice first took hold during World Wars I and II but quickly became optional for individual states during peacetime. Only with the Uniform Time Act of 1966 did the government establish a single time-change pattern for the whole country. Before this year's bill, that pattern had not changed since 1987.