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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.

Tech Industry
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 system Update? Reboot?
Windows Vista; Suse 10 None needed No
Windows XP (SP2); Server 2003, 2003 (SP1) Automatic No
Apple OS X Automatic Yes
z/OS; HP-UX; Suse 8.9; Red Hat EL, Desktop Install patch No
Solaris 8, 9, & 10; Aix 5.3 Install patch Yes
Windows XP (SP1), 2000, NT Manual edit Yes
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."

Another problem: many businesses still use software for which Microsoft has ended the main support period. Windows 2000 and Windows XP prior to Service Pack 2 are no longer supported, for example. The same goes for older versions of Exchange and Windows Server. Microsoft offers "hotfixes," or patches targeting the specific daylight saving issue, for those systems for a flat $4,000 fee, Sweatt said.

And that's just Microsoft. Other vendors also have updates. Oracle is providing daylight saving fixes for several of its applications, its database and its Java Virtual Machine. In addition, Sun Microsystems' Java Runtime Environment also stores rules about DST observance all around the globe, and Sun recommends that people update Java to avoid trouble.

Provider help
These software makers are among those companies supplying online help with the DST shift.
IBM
Microsoft
Sun
Apple
Oracle (for customers only)

While the operating system and Exchange are primary concerns, the Java update is causing the most headaches for Byle, the systems engineer at an insurance company. "Given that there are over 50 versions of Sun Java alone that could be in your environment, the OS and Exchange stuff doesn't seem too bad," he said.

Many application vendors, such as IBM and Oracle, include a custom version of Java in their applications. These also need to be updated for daylight saving time compliance. While many applications get their time information from the operating system, there are also applications that rely on additional software, such as Java, to stay on time.

Mac users also have to get on board. Apple said it fixed the daylight saving time problem for Mac OS X Tiger, the most recent edition of the operating system, in a February 2006 update. It posted a fix for Mac OS X Panther, an earlier version, on Thursday.

Fall 2007

Also on the list is the challenge of centrally updating mobile devices such as laptops and smart phones. Without a fix, calendars on those devices will show appointments at the incorrect time.

"My stupid calendar-synching phones--I haven't a clue how to automate the deployment updates to Windows mobile phones," said Susan Bradley, a network administrator at an accountancy firm in Fresno, Calif. "So far, I've had to manually update them, and I don't know how larger firms will handle this."

Also, networking hardware may not be ready for the daylight saving time change, which may impact the logging of activity such as who accesses the network and when, Bradley said. Some enterprise hardware makers, such as Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks, have provided online guidance for customers.

To soften the impact, Microsoft recommends users of its products to pay extra attention to meetings and appointments scheduled between March 11 and April 1, as well as between October 28 and November 4. (The daylight saving time change means the clock is going to be turned back on the first Sunday in November instead of the last Sunday in October.)

"Users should view any appointments that fall into these date ranges as suspect until they communicate with all meeting invitees to make sure that the item shows up correctly on everyone's calendar both internally and externally," Microsoft has advised.

At Bradley's accounting firm, the IT team is telling employees to confirm the time of an appointment in the subject line of every meeting request as a workaround.

"When I talk to folks, no one has a clue this is coming and is just assuming it will magically work," Bradley said.

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