Q&A: Microsoft Makes it Easier for PC Users, Enterprises to Deal with Daylight-Saving Time Change
Extending daylight-saving time could save energy. That’s the reasoning behind a new U.S. federal law that has daylight-saving time kicking in three weeks earlier than usual this year. But because computers aren’t programmed to recognize the change, experts warn the move could befuddle calendaring and scheduling software.
Specifically, the change was mandated under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 in hopes that more early-evening daylight will translate into energy savings. The rub is that many technology devices, including software, programmed before the new law was passed are set to spring forward by one hour on the old daylight-saving schedule (April 1, 2007) instead of the earlier date mandated by the legal change (March 11, 2007), potentially creating scheduling issues for some users.
To find out what that means to computer users and what Microsoft is doing to help them negotiate the change, PressPass spoke with Rich Kaplan, vice president of Customer Service, Partners and Automation at Microsoft and the man who lead the company’s Y2K preparedness strategy.
PressPass: Please briefly describe the daylight-saving issue.
Rich Kaplan: In passing the Energy Policy Act of 2005, [the U.S.] Congress gave us an additional month of daylight-saving time, which in theory means more early-evening daylight, which means we will use less energy. Under the new law, clocks will spring forward one hour on the second Sunday in March – March 11 this year – instead of the first Sunday in April. Later in the year, clocks will be set back one hour on the first Sunday in November, rather than the last Sunday of October. From a technology perspective, this means that anything that automatically sets itself for daylight-saving time – VCRs, clocks, digital watches, digital organizers, computers of any sort – needs to be adjusted to align with this change. Our goal at Microsoft is to give people the tools, updates and information to successfully manage that change.
PressPass: How does the daylight-saving issue compare with the Y2K issue?
Kaplan: They are very different issues. Y2K was a potential disaster, while the daylight-saving time change is more of a potential nuisance or inconvenience. However, there are some similarities. Both issues required a unified response, as well as the testing and analyzing of many products that had date and time information. And both issues presented a communications challenge in order to raise awareness – to make sure people knew that the change was coming and that they need to evaluate their applications to see if there would be impacts. But the daylight-saving issue is much less serious.
The Y2K problem stemmed from the fact that programmers historically had stored only the last two digits of a date, so computers would interpret the year 2000 as 1900 and would not be able to reconcile time appearing to move backward. This yielded the so-called Millennium Bug, which had the potential to cause errors in some applications. The daylight-saving issue, on the other hand, is not a software bug and the potential impacts are pretty minor. You’re not going to lose your data, your computer’s not going to crash, your bank account’s going to be OK! Like I said, I view it as more of a nuisance. Even if customers don’t do anything, the biggest potential impact likely will be that their schedules will be off by an hour, whereas with Y2K we actually had some problems where applications failed.
PressPass: What is Microsoft doing to address this issue?
Kaplan: We’ve taken a number of steps to raise awareness and we’ve made technology solutions available. In mid-2006, we created a Web site for people to get information about the issue (www.microsoft.com/dst2007), and in November we made the necessary Windows Updates available on microsoft.com. We’ve also been conducting weekly seminars to customers and IT pros via Live Meeting. From an enterprise perspective, we’ve taken the guidance from our own IT department and offered it through online seminars. To help prepare our customers for this transition, we’ve done high-level seminars on the issue and then deep dives on issues like Microsoft Outlook, Exchange and Windows, so people know what they need to do to remediate those.
PressPass: Is a comprehensive fix available?
Kaplan: Here’s the high-level view of what is available.
Enterprise customers have to take an update to their servers, then take an update to all their clients to recognize the new daylight-saving time. For those of our customers who have Windows’ automatic update feature turned on – which is most of the consumers – the update got pushed out Feb. 13, so effective that date all of the machines on Windows Update around the world were updated with the change for North America. In addition to that, for enterprises using Microsoft Exchange Server with any other Web service or third-party applications to match calendars – such as Outlook Web Access, the RIM BlackBerry Enterprise Server or the LotusNotes connector – there’s an update for a file called Cdo.dll which updates those connectors with the time change. If you’re not using one of those connectors, you don’t have to worry about the update for Exchange.
People using Outlook for calendaring need to do one more thing. Once they’ve accepted the update to the Windows client to recognize the change, all the calendar items that they booked before they took the update are now off by an hour during this new four-week window – because their calendars, using the common rules we use, have sprung forward. For these users, we have a tool called the Microsoft Office Outlook Time Zone Data Update Tool, which an end-user can run against his or her calendar, and it points out all the meetings in this four-week window. It moves the recurring meetings back an hour, so they’re back to the right time, and it asks the user what they would like to do with single-instance meetings if it’s not sure what time zone – under what rules – they were created in.
Some enterprises have told us they don’t want end-users running this tool so we’ve created something called the Exchange Wrapper for the Outlook Time Zone Data Update Tool which allows our enterprise customers to run the same set of utilities against all their user mailboxes on the server without having to introduce the end-users into the equation, so to speak. Finally, Windows Mobile devices also need an update, which can either be pushed out via the Mobile operator or via a link on our Web site if users connect their phone to their laptop or PC.
PressPass: What about Windows Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office system? What steps should those users take?
Kaplan: Windows Vista and the 2007 Microsoft Office system were both released after the legislation was passed and developed to incorporate the change – so those users don’t have to do anything. Outlook 2007 and the 2007 Office system have this Time Zone Data Update Tool built in. It recognizes that the time zone has changed and it asks the user if it can run the tool to make sure that their meetings are on time. I’d say the biggest challenge for end-users using calendaring is that, even if their PC has gotten the update and they have run the Outlook Time Zone Data Update Tool, they cannot be sure if the PC of the person they’re meeting with has done the same. But there’s an easy way to ensure clarity. Let’s say they’ve scheduled a calendar item for 9 a.m. and called it “Meet Jane at Starbucks.” My suggestion to these people during this four-week window is to call the meeting, “Meet with Jane at Starbucks at 9 a.m.” In other words, put “at 9 a.m.” in the title so that whoever they have invited to the meeting will know the exact time you meant. For meetings that include people invited across more than one time zone, state or country, we also advise that people put the time and time zone in the subject line or body of the meeting message during this four-week window, such as “9:00 a.m. Pacific” or “9:00 a.m. PDT.”
PressPass: What about enterprises that are running older versions of Windows? What sort of support do they get?
Kaplan: Many of our customers choose to stay on the older products because they’re tied to business-critical systems and as a result they’re not ready to make a change. Some of these customers are running into an awareness of our support-lifecycle policies. I’d say that we have some of the most generous support-lifecycle policies of any technology company. For example, for any of our products we guarantee five years of mainstream support free. We also offer a second phase of support called Extended Hotfix Support, but there’s a cost associated with that.
For the set of products that are in mainstream support, all the daylight-saving time updates are free. For products that are in Extended Hotfix Support – the two critical ones here are Windows 2000 and Exchange 2000 – there is a fee of US$4,000 for any product. We’ve greatly reduced the price on that because we’re sensitive to the fact that this is government-introduced legislation, but only a small subset of users needs to obtain this kind of support. If users don’t want to obtain those updates, they can manually update some products such as Windows 2000 using a Microsoft tool called TZEdit . It’s available on our Web site today at no cost. And the Time Zone Data Update Tool runs against all versions of Windows. For much older products like Windows NT 4.0 and Exchange 5.5, customers can obtain for a fee something called the Customer Support Agreement.
PressPass: What steps should home users take?
Kaplan: The Web site we created is designed for different types of users and their needs, including home users. It walks them through the steps they need to take, including asking them which operating system or other software they’re using. At a high level, Windows XP SP2 users with the automatic updates feature turned on got the update on Feb. 13. Those many users, especially home users, who do e-mail, Web browsing, digital music and photos but don’t use their calendars don’t need to do anything else. They’re fine. Casual users can even simply move the meetings themselves and make sure that when it asks if they want to notify attendees, they say “yes” so that it sends out updates to other people who are attending the meeting with you. But heavy users of Outlook calendaring and scheduling need to download the Time Zone Data Update Tool from the Web site, then run it to move their meetings back to the right time.
The Office Online Web site has a helpful article for home Outlook calendar users.
PressPass: Are these fixes available now or are some of them still in the works?
Kaplan: One of the challenges we’ve faced has been the dynamic nature of some of these updates. For example, after Congress ratified this agreement in August 2005, some other countries and territories decided to take the opportunity to adjust their own daylight-saving schedules, too. Newfoundland, Canada, ratified their change as recently as December 2006, and Namibia and Iran ratified changes even more recently. As a result, even though our update has been available for quite a while, we only released an update to include these places’ new daylight-saving rules in February 2007. In addition, enterprises have told us they want more features and functionality in the Outlook Time Zone Data Update Tool, so we have been updating it to make sure we’re getting the enterprise requirements clear.
PressPass: What are some of the international ramifications of the issue?
Kaplan: Many countries have time zone changes that don’t coincide with the way Windows is configured. Take Brazil and Israel, for instance. They’re not on the Gregorian calendar so they don’t have an automatic configuration for daylight-saving time. Instead, they change it manually once a year based on how they want to do it, or they use the TZEdit tool I mentioned earlier to make the change. Many if not most of our enterprise customers do business internationally, so these companies will have to make sure that worldwide they understand the impact on, for example, conference calls that are scheduled during this four-week window.
PressPass: Have these solutions been tested by any customers yet? What has customers’ response been to date?
Kaplan: We’ve gotten a very positive response from small businesses, end users and others who have used the Web site. They say it’s straightforward, easy to understand and easy to do. The feedback from enterprises varies because it can be a complex process for them when they have to do it in order across all their servers to all their end-users. Like many IT tasks, doing it in the proper order and having it well thought through and scheduled is important, and that’s why our own IT department has been presenting their guidance and learnings to customers, so they don’t have to do it ad hoc for themselves.
PressPass: What role are Microsoft’s industry partners playing?
Kaplan: Our partners can read our deployment guidance and use it to help customers. On the Web site we have published several things they can do, such as an assessment checklist, an enterprise response plan, an overview for how to patch and guidance on the Time Zone Data Update Tool. We have also published what we call Calendar Update Tool Awareness communications for people who do a lot of scheduling and who are broad communicators to an audience, especially administrative assistants and receptionists.
Figuring out creative ways to let people know about the change is key. At Microsoft, we’ve changed the separator page at our printers so that it alerts people using the printer that we’re springing forward three weeks early on March 11. Microsoft IT also came up with the concept of door hangers (such as you place on door handles at hotels) that say the same thing. They are all part of a list of guidelines we put together that we think would be very effective for any partner to use so that they can work with their customers on communications, awareness, tools and strategy.
PressPass: Any other comments?
Kaplan: This is an issue that the entire tech industry is responding to, and we have taken steps to be quite vocal about it because, as an industry leader, we feel that we owe it to our customers and to consumers at large. I want to stress that your digital life and documents on your computer are completely safe. The daylight-saving time changes do not represent an exaggerated threat to your computer.
Lastly, if Congress doesn’t see the energy savings it hoped to get from this measure, it is reserving the right to re-evaluate this change. That means that in two years’ time, Congress can in fact revert to the original daylight-saving schedule. So stay tuned because it could go back again.
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