Have you ever been to a McDonald's and noticed someone complaining about their weight? Ever notice that same 300lb person ordering two big Macs, french fries and what must be a liter Coke? But what's even worse is when they blame McDonald's? Sorry people; you have to take responsibility for what you eat. If McDonald's makes you fat don't eat there.
I can't help but feel a similar reaction to some of the response to Microsoft's recent lawsuit against TomTom. I've previously taken Microsoft to task for spreading FUD and failing to disclose what patents, if any, they claim Linux infringes. Set aside for the moment the real and serious questions of software patents and the extent to which our existing patent system is broken. Those questions are orthogonal to the point I'd like to make today: the computer industry as a whole has to accept some responsibility for the situation we are in today with respect to usage of Microsoft's's FAT filesystem. We have to accept some responsibility, stop whining, and do something about it. It's time that we "Get the FAT Out."
One of my first system programming jobs was building a network file system interface based on the filesystem in MS-DOS: Microsoft's File Allocation Table or FAT filesystem. Unfortunately, those of us who have PhDs in computer disciplines and have studied operating systems and file systems, don't see anything particularly innovative in FAT or it's extension to support longer file names, FAT32. (The original FAT only supported a fixed 11 characters for the file name. FAT32 extended that to support long file names.)
I say unfortunately because the industry has treated FAT and FAT32 as open, industry standard formats. We all share some culpability in this; including Microsoft. But Microsoft, like McDonald's, has little incentive to disabuse us of our self delusion. It appears that FAT32 is covered by Microsoft patents #5,579,517 and #5,758,352 on techniques for implementing a "common name space for long and short filenames." Thus FAT32 is not an open and unencumbered technology.
Again, I think many of us in the industry would vigorously disagree that the techniques covered are truly patentable. Unfortunately that's not our choice to make. In early 2006 the USPTO upheld the validity of Microsoft's patents on elements of the FAT filesystem. Eben Moglen has been warning us for some time that this could be a problem for the industry.
Yet in spite of this the industry has continued down a path where FAT has become the default filesystem of choice in much digital media. Amazon Kindle uses FAT. Google Android uses FAT. Virtually every digital camera uses FAT.
Rather than continue to delude ourselves that this technology is open and unencumbered it's time for the industry to "Get the FAT Out" and aggressively move to a truly open and unencumbered industry standard filesystem format. There are several to choose from: pick your favorite Linux filesystem such as ext2 for example. Ext2 is arguably technically superior to FAT as well. Plus it's open source. The software is already available under an open source license.
In 1989 Unisys "discovered" a patent that it held on LZW compression that was applicable to the popular GIF graphic format. What the industry had thought was a free an open specification suddenly was encumbered. The industry responded with "Burn All GIFs", an effort to encourage the industry to switch to a truly open and unencumbered format such as PNG. It's time we did the same with FAT. It's time we stopped eating at McDonald's. It time for us to "Get the FAT Out".