Are Linux Systems Ready for Daylight Saving Time?

Listening to the newscasts, one might begin to think that Americans should this Sunday brace for a digital world run amok. Billed as a “mini-Y2K”, this weekend could produce myriad horrors, if you believe broadcasters’ reports.

Hospitals could incorrectly dispense medications. On Monday, conference rooms could be overrun by workers arriving for a meeting scheduled an hour earlier. Financial transactions could be delayed disrupting an already skittish economy.

The reason for the uproar? For the first time since it was originally enacted by Congress in 1917, daylight saving time (DST) will begin this coming Sunday, two weeks earlier than usual.

For most Americans, despite the doomsday scenarios, the change will mean only the loss of one hour of sleep. However, for large enterprises, the change has meant an investment of hours of IT manpower as companies work to update and synchronize servers, desktops, laptops, cell phones, personal digital assistants and other devices.

Most computers, as it turns out, are programmed to automatically change time the first Sunday in April, and only machines manufactured within the last year or so have been updated.

Microsoft and Apple have issued automatic updates for users of their respective operating systems and applications so that they will make the correct time switch. However, the Linux community and users of other types of devices cannot rely on their machines to make the change on their own.

While not ideal, users can also manually change the time on their servers or apply configurable time zone rules available for Java Version 1.4 and higher.

Innocent Beginnings

It all began relatively innocently, when Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Lawmakers believed that an extension of daylight saving time by two weeks in the spring (from the first Sunday in April to the second Sunday in March) and by one week in the fall (until the last week of October) they could help reduce the amount of energy Americans use daily.

“It’s the right of any government to decide when and if it implements daylight saving time,” Andy Kyte, a research fellow at Gartner, told LinuxInsider. “It was made with a justification that included saving quite a bit of fuel oil and gas and a reduction in car emissions. These are all very worthy objectives. And it is not the fault of the people who sponsored such a change that most IT systems are poorly documented, inflexible and found it difficult to make what is a very simple change.”

The unilateral change — most other countries will lose one hour on the last Sunday in March — will affect every state in the Union except for Arizona, Hawaii and parts of Alaska and Indiana. Canada and Bermuda will also make the change.

Synchronize Your Everything

Companies, individuals and computer networks that operate across multiple time zones will be affected the most. As one day each year will have 25 hours and another will come up short with only 23 hours, display and time tracking problems will continue to be a significant problem, according to a Forrester Research report.

Applications that calculate elapsed time, transactional logging applications, and software that supports DST rules will also be affected.

By and large, vendors including Agresso, Epicor Software, Infor Global Solutions, Lawson, Microsoft, SAP and Sage, where the software relies on system time that is defined and maintained by the OS, have already informed clients and published updates.

However, in some instances, those using Oracle Application Server or Oracle database, for instance, may have to apply the patches or updates, according to the report. Users of pre-2007 versions of Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange will have to manually apply the fix.

“Patches are also required for other devices like Blackberries, cell phones, PBXs and TiVos. In some cases, the provider can push the change. In others, users have to manually apply a fix,” Jeffery Hammond, a Forrester analyst and co-author of the report, told LinuxInsider.

Linux World

Ian Gray, Linux vice president of Global Enterprise Services, told LinuxInsider that as in widely-used operating systems like Windows and Mac OS X, there are particular packages of Linux that will need to be updated to make the early switch to DST.

“There is definitely an impact to Linux users as with users of the other OSes,” Gray said. “There are package level updates that need to be made.”

As for the OpenOffice productivity suite, which shipped with RedHat Enterprise 1, the Java packages do need to be updated, Chris Vanhoffe, a RedHat engineer, told LinuxInsider.

“OpenOffice relies on Java and Java requires changes for daylight saving,” Gray said.

All product updates are available for RedHat customers via the RedHat Network. Those patches have been available since 2005, according to Gray. “The customers can synchronize their systems with the RedHat network and they will pick up those patches.”

Because there is always the possibility that users could encounter an unforeseen problem, Gray said Red Hat will be on “high alert,” even though the company believes most customers have installed their patches. Managers and engineers will be on standby and people will be in the office over the weekend.

“We’re viewing this weekend as sort of a mini-Y2K for us,” Gray said. “So we have our support lines open.”

1 Comment

  • It might have been a mini Y2K for Microsoft and their Operating Systems. But for Linux it was business as usual. the DST updates for Linux Distributions are done and dusted.
    While Microsoft was working out how to solve the dependency headache this update gave them, Linux admins and indeed general users were simply running the standard Linux package updates just like they do every other time there are patches to install, and the package manager took care of the details. Ho Hum

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