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More Daylight Saving woes for Aussies

Australian customers of Microsoft Windows, Outlook, Exchange Server and other programs are about to suffer another upheaval courtesy of Microsoft itself.

Australian customers of Microsoft Windows, Outlook, Exchange Server and other programs are about to suffer another upheaval courtesy of Microsoft itself. While the immediate problem is ‘down under’, the broader issue can affect anyone in the world while Microsoft stubbornly fails to address the core problem.

For many years, daylight saving changes in Australia has been governed on a ‘state-by-state’ basis. This has meant a confusing mix of start and end dates for the one hour shift, assuming that it happens at all.

Back in March 2008 we wrote about long-standing failures in Windows that makes life very difficult for customers of other Microsoft products like Outlook and Exchange Server. Half a year later it’s happening again. Daylight savings is about to start in Australia with new dates and so Aussies have to take care.

The problem arises because Windows (and by extension Outlook, Exchange Server or any other program that uses dates/scheduling) assumes that daylight savings patterns never change from year to year. This assumption isn’t practical but Microsoft persists in thinking otherwise.

That means appointments in the dates between the old start date for daylight savings and the new start-date can be off by one hour. In the upcoming case the ‘change-over’ period from 5 Oct 2008 (the new harmonized start date for NSW, ACT, SA, TAS and VIC is 3 week earlier than in the past) and the old system start-date which would have been 26 Oct 2008. Users in WA, NT and QLD are not directly affected but, like anyone who has dealing in the affected places, they might strike problems.

While the problem is in Windows, many of the fixes and checks you need to do are in programs that rely on the flawed Windows information to do their work.

There are plenty of implications for this bug in Windows. System logs and file time stamps can go awry as well as any non-Microsoft program that relies on Windows for time and time zone information.

In this article we’ll focus on the implications for Microsoft Outlook.

Desktop Computers

For individuals and small network users the simplest fix is to go to the Microsoft check site – though to say its simple is quite wrong.

It will detect your operating system (it won’t detect Windows Server 2008 but choosing the ‘Windows Vista’ option seems to work OK).

Then you’re taken through the checks you need to make. In short, ensure the computer is set to the correct time and time zone. Then ensure that the latest time zone data has been installed (with Automatic Updates running, it should be).

Sadly the time zone update is still obscurely labeled. If you look down the list of Windows updates looking for something called ‘Time Zone update August 2008’ you’ll search in vain. You have to look for ‘Update for Microsoft Windows (KB951072)’ – which is quite ‘obvious’.

If the time zone update isn’t installed, then comes the most extraordinary advice we’ve ever seen from Microsoft:

“If you use the Microsoft Office Outlook calendar function, print your calendar for the periods 5th October 2008 to 26th October 2008 before you download and install the Time Zone update to make sure you have a record of your calendar items”

Such is the lack of confidence by Microsoft itself in the interaction of their own products that they recommend customers make a hard copy of data to check against later. Strangely this prudent advice is only offered to people who are about to install the time zone update – our, more cautious, opinion is that all users should get a print-out just in case.

Then you download the Time Zone Data Update Tool to update your calendar. Check the settings and calendar items to be changed very carefully.

Carefully check appointments (probably repeating appointments) that fall into the problem period (5-26 October) for following years (2009 and beyond). Depending on when the appointment was made and the time zone data available at that time – those appointments might be off by an hour.

Servers and Networks

The situation for Exchange Server and larger network deployments is much more complex – thankfully there’s a useful summary available in doc, pdf and xps format from this page. Though it’s a well intentioned document you have to wonder at a bug in Microsoft’s products which requires a 35 page explanation of the consequences and things customers have to do.

Mobile Phones

Windows Mobile devices need to be updated separately –details here.

Across the Globe

While Australians in some states ‘down under’ have to deal with the immediate problem – Microsoft customers elsewhere could also be affected.

If you have an appointment with someone in Australia during October 2008 it’s worth checking the details to ensure that your copy of the appointment hasn’t been shifted by one hour.

Multi-national companies should ensure that servers and domain controllers have the time zone updates consistently applied around the world.

While the problem for the next week is ‘down under’, don’t think you’re immune. There are plenty of daylight savings and time zone changes across the globe – your area might be next. These problems will continue until Microsoft stops deluding themselves that time zone changes are minor and ‘one-off’.

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