As we prepare for the early arrival of Daylight Savings Time (DST) this weekend, there are many opinions as to whether it will cause Y2K-level trouble for computer systems or not. But a number of readers say it's already been a major pain for their companies, primarily because Microsoft was so late in getting its fixes for Outlook and Exchange ready.
“I've been in the trenches for the past week dealing with Outlook/Exchange issues created by the Daylight Savings Time changes, and it's not pretty,” wrote one reader last week. “Granted I only deal with a few hundred mailboxes, but the potential is there to greatly reduce productivity for all employees, not just IT. What I really don't understand is why Microsoft put off releasing the main DST patch, 931836, for so long. If the patch had been released near the time Congress passed the law in 2005, a lot of this firefighting that's taking place now simply wouldn't exist. Instead, they waited so long to address the issue that they're still in the process of figuring out how best to deal with it. I checked three different sources of info on their support site — two webcasts and a KB article — and they all had different orders of the four steps involved in dealing with the issue. They are still literally making it up as they go along.”
Microsoft released DST patches for desktop and server operating systems in December, but readers complain that Redmond kept changing signals on the tools and procedures for fixing Outlook and Exchange long after. Systems that were patched once have had to be patched again because the procedures changed. Different types of meetings scheduled in Outlook calendars had to be fixed differently depending on when the OS patch was installed. And deployment of Exchange calendar fixes in large organizations were so cumbersome as to turn major rollouts themselves. “They got too focused on Vista and dropped the ball on this,” one reader wrote.
Another reader wrote earlier that Microsoft's publication of the patch for Outlook had persuaded him to hold off making any fixes until the last minute. “I personally have decided to wait until this week to apply the last Microsoft fixes,” the reader wrote. “Since I know that admins all over the world are spending thousands of man hours testing this stuff, and finding out much of what they are being told by vendors is incorrect. This is how third world countries were able to survive Y2k, so I figure it will hopefully work for me.”
A Microsoft official this week told viewers of the Today Show that the DST issue is just a nuisance, a statement that greatly irked a reader at a large multinational corporation. “I think Microsoft is still downplaying this whole thing,” the reader wrote. “I don't know of any large corporation that I have contacts with that merely consider this a nuisance. Because there's been very little attention paid to this problem in the press, one of our hurdles was that we had a very hard time selling within our IT hierarchy the true extent of the issue. Our CIO wanted verification on what the extent was and information on what other companies were doing, which slowed our eventual action. Our CIO, and he is probably not alone, trusts what he hears others are doing perhaps more than he wants to take direction from within. It is understandable that he wants to validate before jumping on such a big issue. Thank goodness we were successful in getting him to buy in, although we just patched this past weekend.”
Of course, companies won't know just how much damage the DST change has caused for many weeks, especially until they see how many employees miss appointments due to faulty calendars. “Because of the delay, the three-week period from March 11 to April 1 has turned into a meeting Twilight Zone for us,” wrote the reader with a few hundred users. “I work for a company that doesn't have a technically-sophisticated user base, and that goes triple for our executives. Those same executives are the ones most likely to have calendars that are fully booked, and they're highly dependent on them being accurate. It's a recipe for disaster.”
The reader at the multinational had additional problems in that regard because of countries that aren't following the new U.S. DST schedule. “Being an international company, the problem was exasperated in that we've had people accept meeting invitations from affected time zones with people with non-affected time zones. Since Outlook was calculating the GMT offset wrong, these people had accepted meetings for essentially a non-existent common time. We have also decided to NOT run the Microsoft calendar rebasing tool for Exchange. We felt it didn't fix all of the calendar entries, and in some cases, actually did more harm than good and gave a false sense of everything being fixed. And we've heard through our contacts in other companies that those that ran the rebasing tool are very unhappy with the result.”
Unhappiest of all though are those customers who are still using sunsetted Microsoft operating systems for which patches are not being released. “Instead of putting out a patch for Windows 2000, Microsoft has said they'll charge $4,000 for a hotfix,” one reader wrote. “And that's a substantial discount from their usual $40,000 charge, Microsoft likes to point out. You've gotta be kidding me! While I could maybe be convinced of Microsoft's motives for not porting IE7 to Windows 2000 or for not porting the DST fix to Windows 98, how many millions of man-hours will be lost changing the time on countless Windows 2000 machines in North America for the next few years? How hard would it be for Microsoft to make the change and send it out as an Automatic Update like they're doing for XP-SP2?”
Perhaps Microsoft could fall back on the excuse that they just lost track of the time. Or could it be that Redmond just can't be bothered with the problems of any customers who insist on using slightly out-of-date products? What do you think? Call my voice mail at 1 888 875-7916 or write me at Foster@gripe2ed.com and make your voice heard on the Gripe Line.