| Tuesday May 24th 2016

Linux Foundation says it is time to ditch Microsoft’s FAT filesystem

It will be time to ditch FAT when there is an alternate file system that is better than it for portable flash drives. To do this it would need:

  • Full, out of the box Windows support. Plug and play on any Windows XP and later machine
  • Full linux support
  • Full mac support
  • Safe eject – You may pull it out without much worry about data integrity
  • No permission issues – if you create a file on one computer, and then access it on another, you won’t receive access denied errors

Unfortunately, there is no technology other than FAT that comes anywhere close to satisfying these requirements… But let’s face it, FAT is crap. Flash devices should be using a wear leveling file system that’s designed for flash drives. Not some ancient file system from patent lawsuits.

The Linux Foundation, a nonprofit vendor-neutral organization that coordinates development of the Linux kernel, has responded to the recent news that Microsoft and TomTom have settled their patent dispute. The Linux FoundationLinux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin wrote a blog entry on Tuesday commenting on the outcome of the conflict.

He contends that Microsoft, which has recently been expressing an affinity for openness and encouraging critics to give it the benefit of the doubt, has demonstrated that it can’t be trusted and is not willing to support truly open technologies. He also suggests that product makers should consider the possibility of rejecting Microsoft’s legacy FAT filesystem and should instead adopt an unencumbered open source alternative.

“The technology at the heart of this settlement is the FAT filesystem. As acknowledged by Microsoft in the press release, this file system is easily replaced with multiple technology alternatives. The Linux Foundation is here to assist interested parties in the technical coordination of removing the FAT filesystem from products that make use of it today,” he wrote. “Microsoft does not appear to be a leopard capable of changing its spots. Maybe it’s time developers go on a diet from Microsoft and get the FAT out of their products.”

The FAT filesystem is largely anachronistic and the specific features covered by patents are bizarre legacy compatibility characteristics, but many companies pay to license these patents from Microsoft because the popularity of the Windows operating system turned FAT into the dominant format for memory cards and removable media, even though it doesn’t offer any technical advantages over other options. Linux distributions use native open source filesystems–such as Ext3–on regular internal storage, but still use Microsoft’s FAT on removable media in order to ensure compatibility with Windows and existing devices.

An industry-wide shift towards an open royalty-free format in the hardware space could potentially liberate device makers from this dependence on Microsoft’s encumbered technology. Although it seems unlikely that a format as deeply entrenched as FAT can be displaced at this stage, the Linux Foundation is clearly willing to help coordinate such an effort.


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