Technology

Tips for the Daylight Saving Headache


Springing forward three weeks earlier this year could wreak havoc with your favorite gadgets. Herewith, a guide to keeping time with Congress' clock

Daylight Saving Time is coming three weeks earlier than usual this year, thanks to a law passed by Congress in 2005. The idea: Extra daylight will conserve energy by curbing the need for electric light.

So in the early morning hours of Mar. 11, clocks must move forward an hour. Though most of us enjoy the payoff—daylight stretching later into the evening—we're never too thrilled with losing an hour of sleep. Of course, that's not the only inconvenience inherent in springing forward this year—computers and electronics of various stripes have long been programmed to change the time according to a schedule that has been in place for decades.

So if you want to make sure the trains in your digital life are running on time come Monday morning, here's a quick rundown of what you need to know.

Managing Microsoft

If your PC is running the most recent version of Microsoft (MSFT) Windows, known as Vista, you don't need to do anything. The new operating system was programmed with the new time-change schedule in mind. Prior versions, however, need an update, which can be downloaded.

See Microsoft's Daylight Saving Time Help & Support Center for more information on versions of Windows going as far back as Windows 2000 Professional Service Pack 4. Versions of Windows that are even older, including Windows Me, Windows 98, Windows NT, and Windows 95, need a little more help. Your best bet is to use a utility called tzedit.exe, which can be found either on the Windows installation CD or downloaded from Microsoft's Web site.

Managing Macintosh

If you're an Apple (AAPL) user, most Macs bought during the last two years and running Mac OS X should be fine, provided you've been regularly updating your software. Updates have already been issued for Mac OS X version 10.3 (Panther) and 10.4 (Tiger).

Not sure if you're appropriately updated? While connected to the Internet, pull down "Software Update" from the Apple menu. If they're needed, the required updates will install automatically. If your Mac runs any version of OS X prior to 10.3, you'll have to adjust the time settings manually. In "System Preferences" find the "Date and Time" icon, and deselect the option to automatically adjust for Daylight Saving Time. If your Mac runs Mac OS 9.2 or earlier, you'll have to find the "Date and Time" control panel and uncheck the option to change to Daylight Saving Time automatically. Then set the time yourself.

Handling Handhelds

Most mobile phones automatically set their own clocks based on the time settings of the nearest cell-phone tower. But this year, smartphones including BlackBerrys, Treos, and those running Microsoft's Windows Mobile aren't quite as sharp as they should be. BlackBerry devices from Research In Motion (RIMM) all need an update to their internal software, which you can get either from your wireless service provider or from RIM's Web site: Using your BlackBerry's Web browser, go to www.blackberry.com/dst2007/patch and follow the prompts to download and install the patch. The process requires a reset, so it's worth backing up the contents of the device to your PC before starting.

Palm (PALM) devices like the Treo line of smartphones—including those running the Palm OS and Windows Mobile, as well standalone PDAs such as the LifeDrive, Zire, and Tungsten—all need an update that must be downloaded to a PC and then installed on the device while it's connected to the computer. The update can be found at the Palm Web site.

On other Windows Mobile devices, you can use the device's Web browser and go to the Windows Mobile site and follow on-screen instructions for installing the necessary update.

Retro-Fitting

Now, for those of you who still own a VCR—assuming you managed to set its clock in the first place—there's a good chance it's too old to have an updated, preprogrammed Daylight Saving Time schedule. So you'll have to break out your owner's manual and change it manually. (If like many machines, your VCR is still flashing 12:00, the time change won't make much difference).

Some models that support VCR+ will automatically be updated. But if you do a lot of timed recording and aren't sure, it's worth checking in with the vendor by calling the support phone numbers in the owner's manual—lest you miss that recording of Battlestar Galactica by an hour.

For Your Consideration

Finally, you may not think it's necessary to change the clock settings in a digital camera or camcorder—but these devices have small computers in them too, many of which were programmed before Congress mandated the time change. And don't forget the time stamp in the corner of photos and videos. Having that off by an hour can foul up organization later. Most will let you set the time manually.

Enjoy the added daylight, even if your sleep was truncated. Got any other advice for ensuring a smooth digital transition? Share it in our Reader Discussion section.

Hesseldahl is a reporter for BusinessWeek.com.

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