DST spells disaster for shrinkwrap software

It's hard to imagine a better demonstration of the absurdity of customer-installed and operated software than the fast-approaching catastrophe of Daylight Saving Time.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

One of the Bush administration's most unexpected legacies could be an extra nail in the coffin of customer-installed on-premises software, once Daylight Saving Time comes into effect in the US this coming weekend. It's now becoming evident that there's been a huge lack of preparedness on the part of leading vendors and their customers. Guess who'll be disrupted most of all? Long-suffering small and mid-sized businesses of course.

It is hard to imagine a better demonstration of the absurdity of customer-installed and operated software than the fast-approaching catastrophe of DST.Bungled patches threaten costly disruption for hard-pressed businesses Every single installation of Windows (Vista excepted), every single installation of Outlook (again with the exception of the newly launched Office 2007) and every single installation of Exchange Server must be separately patched with a DST upgrade. Even worse, the upgrades have to be done in a certain order, otherwise appointments will suddenly and silently shift to a new time.

Can you imagine the effect on salespeople, managers and project teams up and down the country as they start discovering next Monday morning that they're turning up to appointments an hour early (or late) because someone upgraded just one of several different computers in the wrong order? That scenario is going to be repeated in thousands of instances throughout the entire three weeks of the early switch to DST.

While IT support staff in the majority of businesses spend the next few weeks scurrying around trying to sort out this mess, those in organizations that have put their trust in on-demand SaaS vendors will be sitting pretty in comparative serenity. Their service providers contract to provide applications that just work, day in, day out. If there's a change to Daylight Saving Time, then the provider simply takes care of that as part of the service. Granted, there may still be a few headaches, especially where on-demand applications are synchronized with Outlook calendars running as customer-installed software on client machines, but these wlll be just a minor complication for these businesses compared to those that run all their operations on conventional vendor-supplied, customer-installed shrinkwrap software.

Pity for example the minority of companies that choose to rely on Microsoft Dynamics CRM to manage how their sales teams interact with customers, rather than using a reputable on-demand CRM vendor such as Salesforce.com, RightNow Technologies, NetSuite and their competitors. Astonishingly, as ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley reports today, Microsoft only late last week released Daylight Saving patches for the product.

Because of the vendor's tardiness, support staff at the (thankfully few) companies who have chosen to buy and install this product now have to run around like a brigade of the Keystone Kops applying this and other patches, and goodness knows what their sales teams' appointment diaries are going to look like when they're done. If this were fiction it would be a farcical comedy drama, but the sad truth is that these easily bungled patches threaten costly disruption for hard-pressed businesses and it's far from funny. Mary Jo describes the hoops Microsoft expects its customers to jump through as they rush to get this patch implemented:

"Microsoft is advising business users to apply the various DST fixes in a specific order to avoid conflicts. Microsoft is advising users to apply the patches 'from the root,' meaning starting with the operating system. Microsoft is advising businesses to patch first Windows Server versions running Exchange Server. Next, patch the client machines connecting to those servers. Then patch Exchange Server itself, followed by any mobile devices connecting to the network. Finally, patch any other calendaring applications that are part of mix.

"Speaking of Exchange Server and DST, it sounds like some customers are encountering problems with some of the Exchange DST patches ..."

Fortunately, in an earlier article Mary Jo reports a workaround suggested by a Microsoft partner that doesn't rely on the vendor's software working correctly:

"Another precaution Exchange users and administrators might want to take is to 'list the start time in the subject line (for calendar appointments) for the next few months,' said MVP Centimano."

This won't be the first time that small businesses have come up with a fix their workers can use to circumvent failings in Microsoft's software. But is it an even better fix to abandon Outlook and Exchange altogether and switch to an on-demand alternative? That's a question I'll be looking at in a second article on this topic.

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