Some major tech firms still can't program their software to deal with leap days

Three people working on a problem at a PC screen.
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A whole raft of software failing on the 29th of February, from Citrix' virtual machine software, to Sophos Server, to self-service petrol pumps in New Zealand, once again proved that programmers still have no contingency plan to deal with Leap Day.

The New Zealand Herald (via Ars Technica), noted that petrol pumps across the country were out of action for ‘more than ten hours’ due to the bug, which affects New Zealand first due to where it is in the world - or, more thrillingly, the magic of spacetime.

Bleeping Computer reported issues with Citrix and Sophos products as they were happening, with Citrix advising users to change the date manually on their systems while disabling the automatic date change function in their operating system. Sophos Server and Endpoint users, meanwhile, ran into issues with SSL and TLS certificate warnings, which depend on system time synchronization, and were advised, simply, to turn SSL/TLS decryption off for the day.

Leap Day calendar sorcery

 Leap days happen because, although the year as defined by the Gregorian calendar is 365 days long, it takes 365.24 days for the Earth to orbit the Sun - so, every four years, an extra day is added to the calendar so that the average length of a year matches up.

But despite Leap Day being something that you can literally set your watch to, companies somehow still end up in this mess every time. Humans have always been procrastinators, really - 1999 was a big year for computer programmers figuring out how to stop planes from falling out of the sky on January 1st, 2000 despite having had years to figure it out.

And although John Scott, CEO of Invenco Group, the company that provides the affected self-service terminals across New Zealand, said that it was looking into what caused the New Zealand-specific glitch, one oil company representative, from greenhouse gas behemoth Allied Petroleum, seemed less moved to act when asked about it on Facebook, which is obviously the right forum for it.

We’re reliant on tech - so where’s the urgency?

“We’ll add it to our Outlook reminders [quizzical emoji]”, said the poor, inveigled social media intern. So, they’re making a joke, right, but if you follow the thought, it’s emblematic of the fact that every four years we end up here, and it’s just accepted as a fact of life. The intern may be having fun, but you can bet the executives at oil companies were actively pupating over every lost bit of business this year, four years ago, eight years ago, and so on, so it’s anyone’s guess as to why this keeps happening.

Anyway, it’s March now, so we’ll see you in four years.

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Luke Hughes
Staff Writer

 Luke Hughes holds the role of Staff Writer at TechRadar Pro, producing news, features and deals content across topics ranging from computing to cloud services, cybersecurity, data privacy and business software.