Thursday, March 08, 2007

 

MSFT stumbles over daylight savings time change

Of all the things. Big story this week about how MSFT's "patches" to various products don't apply correctly. It seems the US Congress moved the start of Daylight Savings Time (DST) forward a few weeks, with less than two year's notice. Computer software needs to know the time of day, so it cares about DST.

Software should be as simple as possible. It's less buggy that way. One way to make things simple is to have well-tested shared subroutine libraries for functions like getting the time of day and expressing it in local time, that lots of programs need to do. Unix (including GNU+Linux) handles this in the standard C library (libc) that almost all user programs include. They include it at run-time. That way you can update the function one place, when the suits do something silly like changing how the wall clock works.

Debian handled this huge complicated problem by reissuing the software package with the time zone data files that the function in libc consults, tzdata. You go apt-get update && apt-get upgrade, you're done. If you're maintaining a thousand Debian machines, you "push" that out through your update routines. Or maybe you're more cautious and go apt-get update && apt-get install tzdata so nothing else updates just then.

But the MSFT monopoly holds a unique position in the software world. It's got an interest in making its products as complicated as possible. That way IT people have to dedicate their careers to MSFT and don't have time to master the alternatives. Apparently there's time zone code in Outlook Express and Exchange Server and a lot of other stuff. Those packages got reissued, and the upgrades aren't working real well. Not only that, but MSFT is charging $4000 for upgrades to older versions like Exchange 2000. Why are companies still running the seven year old version of that buggy thing? Because MSFT's upgrades don't work too well...

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