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Is Linux ready to go to FAT camp?

Apr 3, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

The Linux Foundation (LF) announced that it will help companies excise the Microsoft FAT filesystem from their systems to avoid the fate of TomTom, which recently settled with Microsoft over alleged patent infringements over FAT. Meanwhile, other open-source leaders are suggesting a standardized FAT substitute may be in the offing.

TomTom's Linux-based
Go 940 Live PND

The talking drums keep rumbling throughout the Linux jungle as the tuxified ones ponder the impact of Dutch personal navigation device (PND) vendor TomTom agreeing to terms after being sued by Microsoft. The patent lawsuit appears to represent the first time Microsoft directly targeted open-source Linux components in a lawsuit. The company listed eight patent violations found in TomTom's Linux-based PNDs, three involving the device's use of the FAT filesystem.

Jim Zemlin

Microsoft's victory in gaining favorable terms from TomTom earlier this week has inspired considerable anger among the Linux bloggers, including Linux Foundation (LF) executive director Jim Zemlin (pictured). “Despite [the company's] claims of acquiring a newly-found respect for open principles and technology, developers should be cautious in believing promises made by this 'new' Microsoft,” he wrote in an LF blog this week. “When it counts, it appears that Microsoft still actively seeks to undermine those technologies or standards that are truly open, especially when those technologies pose a significant threat to their business.”

While stating that the Microsoft lawsuit against TomTom was another example of Redmond's attempt to spread “fear, uncertainty and doubt” (FUD), not to mention further proof that the U.S. software patent system needs reform, Zemlin argued that it was “a non-event.” The FAT filesystem can “easily” be replaced with technology alternatives, he wrote, and he then offered the LF's resources to help companies get the FAT out.

The degree of difficulty in replacing FAT, especially in existing systems, is open to question. Certainly, however, embedded vendors would welcome assistance in avoiding being the next fatted calf to be singled out from the Linux herd. Microsoft is not likely to take on a large company with the resources to fight it in court over the issue, but it is likely to go after smaller companies.

Has the FAT lady sung?

The Linux community may instead choose to go on the offensive, suggests a ZDNet blog by Paula Rooney. As Zemlin notes, it is possible that Microsoft settled for less than it desired with TomTom after the company publicly aligned itself (and vice versa) with Linux advocacy organizations like the LF, the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), and the Open Invention Network (OIN).

Indeed, Rooney quotes OIN CEO Keith Bergelt, who was interviewed by LinuxDevices shortly after the Microsoft lawsuit was filed, as saying that there could be a “response” to Microsoft from the open source community in the coming weeks. “It's Newton's law. For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction,” Bergelt was quoted as saying. The story goes on to quote Bergelt's assertions that the settlement “says nothing about the validity of the patent.”

It is unclear whether the response will include legal suits against Microsoft, but the main thrust appears to be along the lines of Zemlin's suggestion: a unified effort to standardize on an alternative to FAT. Rooney quotes Bergelt as suggesting that the community can develop “a better file naming and file management system that will only accelerate Microsoft's decline.”


Jim Zemlin's Linux Foundation blog on FAT may be found here. The ZDNet blog by Paula Rooney may be found here. More background on the technology behind FAT may be found in our original interview with the OIN's Keith Bergelt, here.

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