Earlier daylight-saving time may surprise computers

February 14, 2007|By The Boston Globe

Will your computer be ready when daylight-saving time comes?

In case you didn't know, that will happen three weeks earlier this year, thanks to congressional fiat.

Congress approved the change in daylight-saving time two years ago, to improve energy efficiency. Instead of starting on the first Sunday in April, as it had, this year it will start March 11, the second Sunday in March.

The change is based on the belief that with one more month of "longer" days and more sunlight during waking hours, consumers will use less energy.

And though "springing forward" in March instead of in April might not seem like a big deal, consider this:

Every e-mail you send is stamped with the time it was sent, as are important transactions such as the automatic deposits you make to a savings account or payments you make online on a credit-card balance.

In some cases, your computer's clock being off by an hour can make a difference, and many computers are still operating under the assumption that daylight-saving time is coming April 1, not March 11 - meaning that precious hour could very well be lost for you.

So what to do? Start checking all of your computer hardware and software now, to see what needs to be fixed before you run into a problem, said William J. Kryouz, network services manager at Goodwin Procter LP, a Boston law firm.

"You have to take an inventory of all of your stuff and check with the vendors to see if you should care about the daylight-saving time issue," said Kryouz, whose job is to make sure the firm's computers and network run smoothly.

Kryouz is nervous because little has been reported in the news media about the impending daylight-saving time change, and with good reason: He worked for a company that didn't take adequate precautions against the Year 2000, and its computer network crashed as a result.

The first thing to do, he said, is start checking with the makers of whatever computer equipment you or your company use. The fewer gadgets there are, the easier that should be.

For those with a computer using the dominant Windows operating system, a quick visit to Microsoft's Web site will tell you whether you have anything to worry about.

If your computer is running Windows XP with the Service Pack 2 upgrade, or Windows Vista, carry on as usual - your system will update itself. But if you're running XP and didn't take the SP2 upgrade, now's the time to do it.

With older versions of Windows, such as Windows 2000 or NT, you need to visit Microsoft online to get specific instructions. Or you could wait until your clock is inaccurate and change it manually.

Microsoft's top rival, Apple Computer Corp., says its OS X operating system was "patched" with a fix for the problem months ago. Anyone running the system should have already gotten an automatic update and won't have a problem, said Anuj Nayar, a spokesman.

The change in daylight-saving time drew little attention, even though computer systems perform tasks on a schedule dictated by internal clocks.

Fixing the problem probably won't cost companies much, Kryouz said, because in many cases all that's required is a free software patch. But if you're running a network that includes many computers or other electronic devices with their own clocks, expect to spend more time and money on the problem, he said.

The change in daylight-saving time won't be like the computer difficulties at the turn of the century, the experts agree.

Approaching 2000, technology experts became aware of a startling problem: Computer clocks were programmed to recognize only the last two digits in a year, for example reading 1999 as just '99. When the year changed to 2000, then, it was feared those clocks and the computers they were tied to would shut themselves down.

To the average person, the Y2K furor seemed much ado about nothing, but a tremendous amount of work was done and money spent over several years to avert what could have been a catastrophe.

The federal government alone said it spent about $8.5 billion; other sources pegged the worldwide cost at about $200 billion.

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