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Daylight Savings changes in North America

Time is running out for people to update their computers to handle the daylight savings changes in the US.

by Office Watch

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This coming weekend, daylight savings time starts in much of the US and Canada, instead of early April in the past. As readers of Office Watch have known for many years, time zone updates for Windows and Office are not as smooth as you might hope.

In this case there’s a series of patches to apply to Windows, (desktop and server), server programs and Office itself. Not only are the patches important but the order in which you apply them is also vital.

What’s happening

The US Energy Savings Act mandated an early start and late finish to daylight savings – from 2007 it will be from the second Sunday of March to the first Sunday of November.

It applies to most of the US and Canada (which passed similar laws).

It does NOT apply to Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.

It does not apply to Mexico.

The changes matter not just to people who live in these areas but also anyone who travels to or schedules appointments in US time zones.

For desktop users

If you’re running Office on a standalone computer (ie not connected to Exchange Server) at home or in a small office then the updates are simple and may have been done already.

You should update Windows then Office, in that order.

Windows Vista shipped with the new time zones so that’s not a problem.

Windows XP SP2 users only can apply the patch at http://office-watch.com/kb?931836

Windows XP SP1, Windows XP and Windows 2000 are pretty much on their own.

Windows 2000 users with an extended service package can get a patch, but without the support arrangement that can be expensive.

The alternative for desktop users without Vista or Windows XP SP2 is to manually update their time zone settings. The imposing http://office-watch.com/kb?914387 has details, for single computer use ‘Method 2’ with the Time Zone Editor tool provided by Microsoft.

Outlook patch

There’s a separate patch for Outlook users to adjust appointments during the changeover period. It should be applied immediately after the time zone patch mentioned above.

This is important because any appointments entered after the time zone patch is applied but before the Outlook update could be adjusted incorrectly.

Download the free update from here.

It applies to Outlook 2007, Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2002 (XP) details at http://office-watch.com/kb?931667

New time zones

As we mentioned above, the daylight savings changes don’t apply in Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa or Mexico.

That means you should check the time zone set in Windows for these regions to make sure it is set for exactly the right place. Some new time zone settings have been added.

For example a computer might have been set for US Central time when it’s really in Mexico – on the basis that the times are the same (ie ‘-6 hours from UTC). That will have to be changed to a specific ‘Mexico’ zone so the daylight savings shift on the correct day.

Same applies to Tijuana which, until now, was combined with US Pacific time under a single time zone listing in Windows. Now there are separate entries for US Pacific Time and Tijuana/Baja California.

Order of events

For administrators of Windows servers and server technologies it is much more complicated. There are patches for the operating system and systems like Exchange Server and Sharepoint as well as updating client computers.

The vital point is to apply the updates in the correct order and preferably without delay between each patch.

We’ve been hearing from people who have called MS support and some frazzled Microsoft support people the common story is patching in the wrong order or patching with too much time elapsed between each stage.

The Microsoft web site has a guide for Network admins – pay close attention to the chapter "General sequence of update actions and special considerations" at http://support.microsoft.com/gp/dst_topissues with a list of the server programs to be updated and the order of events.

Small Business Server

For Small Business Server, Microsoft very misleadingly says “no update needed’ then in the fine print “ there may be updates required to several SBS components (Windows Server, Exchange Server, Outlook 2003, Windows SharePoint Services, SQL Server).” – for ‘may’ it should read ‘almost certainly’.

Small Business Server 2003 users should follow the Windows Server 2003 instructions for desktop and server machines then the Exchange, Sharepoint and SQL Server (for SBS Premium) patches as listed at http://support.microsoft.com/gp/dst_topissues

SBS systems are often run by a business owner and it’s a shame Microsoft didn’t bother to give these customers instructions specific to them (even if that’s a re-statement of the advice for other customers who have the individual products that make up SBS). Small Business Server is sold and usually supported as an integrated unit – that should have happened here.

Windows Mobile / Pocket PC

For Pocket PC’s you need to first totally update your computer and Outlook as described above.

Make sure you’re using ActiveSync 4.5 or later.

Then you can install the Daylight Saving Time 2007 Update Tool for Windows Mobile update.

Details and links here

Exercise caution

Microsoft makes suggestions for extra caution during the transition period (ie the next month and the final week of DST in Oct/Nov).

One of them is a recommendation we’ve made for years – put the date of non-standard (ie not-standard for you) time zone appointments into the text of the appointment (ie the location). This gives all the people involved an unchanging reference. For example a phone conference can have in the location field ‘3:15pm US West Coast time’ .

We also suggest you print out the appointments for the period from 18 March to early April before applying the patches. Then check them after patching to make sure they have been updated correctly. Pay special attention to any recurring appointments that occur during the cross-over period.

Could Microsoft have done better?

This whole situation is a mess and comes as no surprise to anyone who has read about past time zone problems in Office Watch. Microsoft’s support for time zone changes in Windows and other technologies is long overdue for a comprehensive overhaul.

It’s clear that each division of Microsoft (Windows, Office, Exchange Server etc) has their own plan to handle time zone issues. The application of various patches in exactly the right order is primitive and extremely difficult for Microsoft’s customers.

It makes a mockery of Microsoft’s line about the ‘advantage’ of using all Microsoft products on your servers. Where the ‘Microsoft Advantage’ when a fundamental issue like time is handled in such a piecemeal fashion?

Every time there’s a major time zone update we go through these troubles. It only seems worse this time because it involves North America with so many more customers and media attention. The underlying problems have been there for years and each time customers are put through these troubles. Microsoft fails to learn from past mistakes and lives in the vain hope that time zone changes will never happen again.

A team at Microsoft needs to be setup to investigate and develop a proper time zone strategy, not just for Windows but all Microsoft products. A single patch approach would be ideal. In addition the core Windows system needs upgrading to handle ‘one-off’ time zone changes (ie changes that occur once then revert to the standard pattern). Time zone options need to exist, not just for current, but likely regional variations in the future (eg Tijuana and US West Coast should never have been combined into a single TZ element). The team needs to be lead by someone with enough authority to bang division heads together and force a unified approach.

Oh yeah – and someone near the top of the Microsoft pecking order needs to sit on the Outlook team to finally fix the ‘all day event’ debacle. With all the neat stuff in Outlook it’s silly that an ‘all day’ event should span two days if you change time zones. Outlook could easy distinguish between an event that goes from midnight to midnight and an event that occurs on a nominated calendar day – the only thing that’s preventing it is a lack of will at Microsoft.

I know that older operating systems are no longer officially supported – but would it have killed Microsoft to supply a registry patch to update earlier versions of Windows? The current manual instructions are complicated and liable to be done incorrectly. The result is annoyed Microsoft customers who’ll blame the company for the hassles.

We would have liked to see a simple patch with a note that while the operating systems are no longer supported, Microsoft is providing the update as a courtesy. That would have done wonders for Microsoft’s customer relations and cost so little. The patch could have been issued on a ‘no support’ basis just like Microsoft Powertoys. It was pure bloody-mindedness that nixed the idea. Failing to provide a simple update is only likely to annoy people and set them more against Microsoft – it’s hardly going to cause a stampede of people upgrading to Vista.

It has to be said that we customers do have to shoulder some of the responsibility. Much of this could have been done months ago but instead is being done in a last minute panic.

Article posted: Thursday, 08 March 2007

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