FAT: How Screwed Are We Exactly?

Ladies, and gentlemen, it seems that we are in deep dodo. Microsoft now holds a patent for the FAT system. What does it mean for an average consumer? For one, According to Eben Moglen as quoted in EETimes, you can expect the prices of digital photo storage, and equipment to take a hike in the near future:

Eben Moglen, general counsel of the Free Software Foundation, had said if Microsoft was successful in licensing the patents, it could add “millions of dollars annually to consumers’ expenses for digital photo storage, and (raise) the cost of digital cameras throughout the world.”

Hanibal at Arstechnica mentions that MS plans to charge up to $250k for a FAT license, or around $.25 per unit when dealing with flash and solid state memory manufacturers. This is scary. What does this mean for Open Source community?

Strangely, samba will be fine, because despite poplar belief it does not actually implement FAT. It uses the CIFS/SMB protocol. So worse comes to worse, linux community can still use smbfs to mount windows shares.

However, if MS makes a move to enforce this patent it may become necessary to rip the FAT32 support right out of the kernel for US based distributions that want to remain free as in beer. This essentially means no flash/solid state support under debian 😦

Few large companies such as IBM, RedHat or SUSE/Novel may be able to afford the MS FAT tax and ship Linux with legal FAT support. But if you are a new guy and you want to enter the US linux market (like Ubuntu did recently) you probably wont be able to pay the royalties. This may be very disruptive for Linux community.

Of course if MS does anything to enforce it’s patent, we will see the biggest anti-trust shitstorm in years. That’s because this time Really Big Companies™ will be directly affected by this. Can MS really face a combined attack from IBM, Sun, Novel, Cannon (digital cameras) and etc.. It is very likely that MS will not touch it for few years. At least not while they are have the EU slapping them around for monopolistic practices. They probably can’t afford another crazy anti-trust battle at home. But in few years… Who knows…

What will happen, is that MS will use the FAT patent as a leverage in their back room deals. You seen this happen before.

MS Rep: “Oh, so you don’t like our terms? Yeah… I think we are gonna have to go ahead and talk about the Really Rxpensive FAT License That You Will Not Be Able To Afford™. Of course if you would agree to do it our way, we will throw an unlimited FAT license for free – cause we really “care about your business”™ and all.”


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