Get Ready For The Big Time Switch

Time change graphic showing a man using a 2002 model BlackBerry, against a black background and white LCD numerals (CBS/AP) CBS/AP

As the 20th century drew to a close, some prophets of gloom and doom warned that a Y2K technology meltdown loomed for that much anticipated moment when the calendar was to move from 1999 to 2000.

Disaster did not ensue. And regardless of whether Y2K's dangers were overhyped or merely averted through many hours of prevention, the new millennium was ushered in with good cheer and very few computer glitches.

Now, we have something else to worry about.

This coming Sunday is the start of daylight-saving time. That, and the switch back to standard time in the fall, have been with us since long before computers were invented. But this year it will be different. A 2005 federal law dictates that daylight-saving time will begin three weeks earlier than before and extend a week later to the first Sunday in November.

The reason that we should worry is because some PCs and other devices are programmed to automatically switch to and from daylight-saving time based on the old rules. As powerful as Congress and the President may think they are, U.S. law doesn't automatically replicate itself into silicon and software.

Microsoft and Apple have got you covered if you happen to have the latest versions of their operating systems, but very few people have upgraded to Microsoft's new Windows Vista. Apple says it adjusted its calendar when it released OS X 10.4.5 in February 2006 though the company recommends you update again because "some additional regions that recently adopted time zone and DST changes."

Most Windows users are still using Windows XP, which needs an update to recognize the new start of daylight-saving time. To do the update, you must have already installed Service Pack 2 - which you should do anyway because of its important security features. If you have enabled automatic updates on your PC, chances are Service Pack 2 and the update have already been done for you.

If you need the update, or aren't sure whether you do, go to http://support.microsoft.com/dst2007, where you'll find instructions and links to the appropriate update sites. That Web page can also help you with earlier versions of Windows as well as other Microsoft products, including all versions of Outlook, even the newest 2007 version. The update not only checks the software, but makes sure your appointments are up to date with the 411 on DST.

BlackBerry users who have version 4.0 or newer can upload a patch from the company's Web site. If you have an older version, you're advised to check with your cell phone carrier. Palm's Web site also offers updates for Palm OS and Windows Mobile devices. And Microsoft has updates available for other Windows mobile devices.

Any device that's connected to a network can and should be updated by the network operator; of course, that doesn't mean that all companies have done their homework.

TiVo says its digital recorders have been updated, and most people who use standard cell phones shouldn't have a problem. That's because cell phone clocks are typically updated by cellular carriers, which is why the clock is usually correct when you get off a plane in a different time zone.

A Sprint spokesperson provided me with this statement about that company's equipment. "Most wireless phones will automatically adjust with the new daylight-saving time change, but BlackBerry devices and some PDAs and Smart phones may incorrectly display the wrong time or calendar appointments. This is because these devices have their own internal programming for DST, much like a desktop computer, and do not pull the information from our network." If you wake up on Sunday morning and find your cell phone clock isn't correct, dial 611 from the phone to talk with a tech support specialist.

Some devices might have to be updated manually. For example, if you happen to have a DVD player, microwave oven, clock, digital watch or car clock automatically programmed to change to DST, then you'll probably have to manually reset the clock this weekend and every other time we make the switch between DST and standard time.

As with a lot of things these days, it's not just the devices we control that affect our lives. We're all affected by the computers operated by banks, airlines, phone companies, Internet sites, utility companies and other organizations.

It's been two years since Congress mandated the change in daylight-saving time, so companies have had time to make the proper adjustments but that doesn't mean everything will necessarily work as it should. I would expect to see a few problems going forward but, just as with Y2K, I think that most organizations will manage to adapt.

One problem is that the U.S. is going it alone on this switch, so any manual or automatic systems that synch between countries could pose a problem.

My radio-controlled clocks which display the time in California and New York will adjust on their, own but I'll have to manually reset the ones that tell me the time in London, Beijing and other cities. Also, since most other countries won't make the switch at the same time as the United States, it will be up to me to figure out what time it really is in those countries and when I should switch those clocks over to DST.

So, rest assured, Chicken Little (and friends): the sky won't fall.

But do what you can ... to keep time on your side.



A syndicated technology columnist for more than two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid
  • Francie Grace

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