Time Change Brings 'Nightmare' Issues with Outlook, CalendarsBy Peter Galli | Print
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Microsoft officials say the worst of the problems regarding the daylight-saving time change have passed, but some customers are still complaining of "nightmare" issues.
While Microsoft officials say the worst of the problems regarding the daylight-saving time change that took place March 11 have passed, some customers are still complaining of "nightmare" issues with Outlook and their calendars.
This year, DST (daylight-saving time) started three weeks earlier than customary, and will end a week later than usual on Nov. 4, causing grief for some IT administrators running Microsoft software, because many of the software programs running on their users' systems need to be individually patched to reflect the change.
But Rich Kaplan, Microsoft's vice president for customer service, partners and automation, told eWEEK on March 12 that call volumes and issue escalations over the weekend had been "moderate and manageable. We experienced lower than expected traffic over the weekendboth for support calls and participation in our technical chat room," he said, declining to give specific traffic numbers.
Microsoft continued to manage individual issues through its central customer support process, and had a team of engineers on the ground to assist individual customers with issues. While volumes were always heavier on a Monday morning, "we were able to handle call volumes with our extended staff and technical chat," he said.
Kaplan also noted that most of the escalations and issues addressed by its DST Support Central Site--a series of sites in Redmond, North Carolina, Las Colinas and in India, where 24-hour support is provided for customers who run into escalations--stemmed from systems or machines not being updated.
The majority of these cases could be attributed to customers waiting until the last minute to apply the fixes, Kaplan said, adding that there were some cases where customers needed additional guidance specific to their environments.
"Overall, we were pleasantly surprised at how many systems were successfully updated and how many customers were prepared for the change and experienced it without incident," he said.
The online chat information Microsoft received March 12 indicated a lack of awareness about the changes related to DST, Kaplan said, noting that customers had generally been able to deploy updates on their server, systems and to their end user workstations via the systems Microsoft supported, such as Automatic Update and Windows Update for consumers, and Windows Server Update Services and Systems Management Server in enterprises.
"Our DST Support Central process has worked well in managing through these issues and has provided assistance in a timely fashion," he said, noting that Microsoft was not letting its guard down just yet and had the staff and resources standing by to respond to any increased demand for support and assistance.
The Redmond software maker has also posted a list of the most commonly asked questions it is receiving about DST, which customers can search to find the answers to their questions.
But some customers continue to have issues, with Richard Monson-Haefel, a senior analyst at the Burton Group, a research and advisory firm, telling eWEEK that "our calendaring system is pretty messed up right now. The patch that was supposed to fix the DST change has caused some, not all, appointments in our employees' calendars to move to the wrong time. It's a small nightmare," he said.
"I have also been having problems with meetings that were set by clients outside our company using Outlook. For example, one client has resent the same appointment twiceboth times it shows up an hour later on my calendar than it does on his, and we have taken time zone differences into consideration," Monson-Haefel said.
Others, like Robert Rosen, the CIO of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and an eWEEK corporate partner, say they think the vendors waited too long to get started on DST patches and updates.
He told Microsoft Watch that "Microsoft in particular requires operating system patches and then Outlook calendar modifications. That makes no sense. If they were storing in Coordinated Universal Time, the operating system patch should have fixed the calendars automatically," he said.
"This has created an absolute nightmare situation. The time differences between the operating system patch and the Outlook fix created a window to cause more calendar entries to be in error," Rosen said.
Asked about complaints like these, Microsoft's Kaplan said that while the response to using Microsoft's DST tools had been positive, he acknowledged that there were instances where people could run into issues, for instance with OWA (Outlook Web Access) and recurring meetings and appointments.
"We've seen situations where meetings are created by people that have not applied the updates to their PCs and viewed by others that have updated. Also, we've seen instances where there have been problems due to corrupted calendar item data, which sounds like the problem in the complaints cited," he said.
While Outlook and Exchange did record events in Coordinated Universal Time, they displayed in local time.
"The Time Zone Data Update Tool for Microsoft Office Outlook rebases meetings that were created prior to the Windows DST update being applied to the PC and servers, and occur during the extended DST period.
"The dates and times for these calendar files in outlook are listed in Coordinated Universal Time," Kaplan said, adding that when the file information is viewed, it is converted to local time.
Another version of the Time Zone Data Update Tool, KB 930879, was released for servers running Exchange Server. Administrators can run this server-side tool to automatically update specific client mailboxes and individual user interaction will not be required, he said.
Microsoft's DST Support Central control room will be staffed around the clock through March 12, and is also monitoring the responses coming in March 12, the first work day since DST went into effect. "We have people standing by to address any issues," he said.
But some customers have reported problems accessing the online DST chat room, while others have complained about Microsoft's phone support, saying they were put on hold for hours before actually talking to someone, if they got through at all.
While Kaplan says that "for now, things are in a good place; we will continue to advise end users to follow some best practices to ensure clarity in their schedules over the next three weeks," that advice seems to indicate there may be more problems than Microsoft is admitting.
"Computer users should check their schedules to see if they look right; meeting organizers should verify meeting times with invitees; and users should put the meeting time in the subject line of a meeting/schedule request," he said.
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