FOLLOWING LEGAL ACTION by Astrolabe Inc., the time-zone database used by Unix and Java, among other services, has been taken offline.
Astrolabe claims that its ACS Atlas is used to generate the time-zone database, and given that the database is public domain information, the firm wants to shut operations down. It has sued Arthur David Olson and Paul Eggert, two volunteers that maintained and hosted the database for years.
The time-zone database might sound as useful as an appendix but in reality its data, which maps locations to time zones, is vital. Operating systems use the time-zone database to present users with location mappings relative to Europe/London, that is, Greenwich observatory, to select the relevant time-zone for the location. As Stephen Colebourne explains, countries change their time-zones with surprising frequency, with the time-zone database issuing 15 or so updates every year.
Although the time-zone data doesn't actually affect the accuracy of the time on systems, which these days are commonly set using the network time protocol (NTP), without the correct time-zone, the wrong offset will be applied to any values returned by the NTP server.
Curiously Colebourne points out that while the open source time-zone data is used by many operating systems and applications, it isn't used by Microsoft. Apparently the US company has its own closed source time-zone data, but it will be interesting to see if Astrolobe decides to go after a well-funded company instead of a group of volunteers. µ