New Daylight Savings Time Rules Promise Software Confusion

There’s been a lot of press recently about the role that America’s energy consumption plays in climate change and in America’s energy insecurity. As part of an effort to alleviate both problems Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. While this is all well and good, one of the provisions of that law will probably serve to give a lot of headaches to users of various computerized electronic devices all over the country. That’s because, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 calls for a lengthening of Daylight Savings Time. This year, Daylight Savings Time will begin three weeks earlier than it has in years past. This may prove to be extremely frustrating for many computer users. That’s because in the past, a computer would know to change its internal clock on the right day. In the case of Windows operating systems, it even tells you that it’s changing it’s own time to account for daylight savings time changes and asks for your approval.

There have been aberrations in how Daylight Savings Time has been used in the past. For example, Arizona doesn’t use daylight savings time at all, and Indiana did only recently. However, those two exceptions to the daylight savings time rule really weren’t major problems for computer users because they could simply tell their computers not to “spring ahead” or “fall back” when the machines present them with the decisions. Granted that anything that simply adjusts its time automatically on those key dates could cause unforeseen frustrations for their users. Another difference between the Arizona and Indiana exceptions to the daylight savings time rule and the new change in daylight savings time is that machines won’t know to make the change on the new dates.

Fortunately, computer programmers and businesses have been working on fixes. For example Microsoft’s new Windows Vista Operating system, as well as the newer Macintosh Operating systems, already know to make the necessary adjustments. For older operating systems, software patches are available for download from the manufacturers. The fact that most programs that need to know the time get it from the operating system, therefore even if the operating system clock is manually updated, it’s the only thing that needs to be updated.

Smaller devices like Blackberries may be another matter though. This is especially true for non business users or business users who aren’t backed by huge tech departments. While Blackberry’s manufacturer does offer a fix, it will have to be downloaded manually.

In all, this monkeying with Daylight Savings Time will probably be a lot more trouble than it’s worth. After all, generally the same amount of energy will be consumed no matter what time of day it is. People still wake up before the sun and go to bed past dark, and the lights that they use when the sun isn’t up are a relatively small percentage of the total energy used. In fact, the cost of adjusting software could easily cost more than the money saved by reducing energy costs, and the amount of energy saved is pretty dubious compared to other things that the government could mandate to save energy. Things like mandating a phase out of incandescent light bulbs, increasing fuel economy, and cutting the wattage of streetlights in half and putting reflectors on top of them (which would also vastly decrease light pollution) would all do more to cut America’s energy consumption than messing with Daylight Savings Time ever will.

To make matters worse, Congress has the option of reverting Daylight Savings Time to the way it used to be if the energy savings don’t pan out the way they’d like- making all of the effort of getting ready for the change totally and utterly pointless.