In a blog post earlier this week, Microsoft announced its intention to add support for leap seconds in the next major update to Windows 10, likely coming in October, as well as its next upcoming version of Windows Server, Windows Server 2019. This will be done through the implementation of a new time synchronization protocol called the Precision Time Protocol (PTP), which will replace the venerable Network Time Protocol (NTP) that has served us so reliably for so many years.
A leap second is a one-second adjustment that is occasionally applied to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) to keep it in sync with mean solar time. UTC, a time standard used for many scientific and military applications worldwide, is usually kept with reference to International Atomic Time, which uses a weighted average of 400 atomic clocks worldwide. However, due to small variations in the Earth’s rotation, one day is rarely exactly 86400 seconds. In the recent past, Earth’s rotation has actually been slowing down, adding a fraction of a second for every rotation it completes. Every time UTC diverges from what is known as “mean solar time” by 0.9 seconds, a leap second is added, with the most recent leap second being added on 31st December 2016. This happens roughly once every 18 months and is usually added after the very last second of the year. At this point, instead of going from 23:59:59 to 00:00:00, UTC goes to 23:59:60, effectively prolonging the year by an additional second.
The latest update to Windows comes after regulators in the US and EU issued new standards on time compliance, requiring clocks used in critical applications to be accurate to 100-microseconds. In the past, a leap second was added through a method called “time smearing,” where one second was broken up into smaller chunks and added throughout the day. According to Microsoft, this creates an error as great as 0.5 seconds, far beyond the limit of the latest US and EU regulations.
With this latest move, Microsoft is showing its commitment to fixing many of the little quirks that bug the world’s most popular operating system. Back in April, Microsoft fixed a decades-old bug involving its calculator app, one that leads to errors while calculating the square root of perfect squares. For the longest time, typing “(√4 )– 2” into Window’s calculator app returns you an answer of −1.068281969439142e−19 instead of 0, due to the way Windows handles floating point operations.
Let us hope that Microsoft continues to fix these little irregularities in Windows, such as the inability to name a folder as “CON,” “AUX” or “NUL.”
Cover Image Credit: NasimAhmed96$