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When does integration cross the line? ....Win2K Time Service

February 10th, 2000 - Chuck Flink

I'm one of those stubborn perfectionists who feel it necessary to keep clocks set to the correct time.  Now, I admit, this does little to get me places on time, nor does it help me meet deadlines.  I'm also one of those people that believe ideas are far more important than schedules, appointments, phone calls or other interruptions to my daily dreams.  I don't let artificial time limits stop me from thinking through a new idea any more than I count on the clock to start me thinking about one.  Clocks may be an obsession, but they usually don't give me ideas!  Except possibly in the case of this article.  Maybe this is the exception that proves the rule!

My wife can happily set every clock in the house 5 minutes ahead ("so I won't be late".)  She does not worry about setting clocks in response to the start or end of Daylight Savings Time, considering it easier to remember to add or subtract an hour from the car clock than to find out how to set it.  If she's late for a meeting, she's in a blue funk for the rest of the day.  In spite of this, I'm the one with all the stress-related diseases and now writing about how to keep your PC's clock set!  ...or more correctly, using this obsession as an excuse to revisit a number of key themes in my model of the ideal e-World.

For years, I've been a user of various Simple Network Time Protocol (SNTP) clients to keep my PCs' clocks set to Naval Observatory time.  There are a number of freeware or shareware tools that do this:  D4 and many others.  When I installed Windows 2000 Server as a NAT firewall / gateway to the Internet, time clients on my network quick working suggesting that the SNTP port on the gateway was holding the SNTP port open.  This was the first indication to me that Windows 2000 Server included SNTP support.  While investigating, I noticed numerous messages in the log on the server system indicating that the it could not find a remote SNTP server to talk to.  I spent some time reading the Active Directory setup information and other parts of the on-line help, but could find nothing about Microsoft's support for this popular Internet protocol.  Finally, by accident, I discovered the following extensions to the net time command:

H:\>net time /?
The syntax of this command is:

NET TIME [\\computername | /DOMAIN[:domainname] | /RTSDOMAIN[:domainname]] [/SET]
   [\\computername] /QUERYSNTP
   [\\computername] /SETSNTP[:ntp server list]

All that was required was to use the new /SETSNTP option flag to specify one or more time servers out on the Internet.  It couldn't be easier.  The error messages in the log ceased and I was able to remove time server clients from any other PCs on my LAN.  That's my Win2K "tip of the week"!  It's also a "bug report" against the product that in spite of megabytes of on-line help information, searches for NTP or SNTP miss this very simple and important fact.

More importantly, it is a typical example of what some readers think is illegal hegemony or market domination on the part of Microsoft!  How dare they absorb application functionality into the Operating System and put some shareware artisans out of work!

Did Microsoft "cross the line" when it close to include this functionality as a no-cost option in Windows 2000 Server?  I doubt anyone reading this would consider it a crime to support this minor protocol (SNTP) and service (synchronization) as a no-cost.  Yet the Department of Justice and a significant number of state Attorney Generals seem to consider the similar integration of HTTP and HTML rendering as crossing the line between acceptable behavior and execution of monopoly power.

As e-Developers, how do we make sure we're not crossing DoJ's line when we obsolete another company's product or service?

I recently suggested several "rules" I wish the industry and government would adopt.  These would clarify to all concerned the strong support for open standards and public cooperation and funding in establishing those standards.  But that is not enough.  We need a clearer recognition on the part of all e-Citizens of the value of integration to our industry and society.  The potential of our technology is vast.  Let's not waste brain-cells arguing over artificial boundaries between market segments.  The key value of technology is the simplification of life for every man woman and child.  To the degree we've made progress in this simplification, it has been through the integration of ideas, once independent, into elegant solutions to human problems.  It is in the making of a whole that is greater than the sum of it's parts that true value is created!

May we ever recognize this!  May we never be discouraged from pursuing well justified integration!

Copyright 2000 Information Security Analysis LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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