Sep 06, 2019

Microsoft loosens its grip on Linux and open source software by making remaining exFAT patents available

Microsoft has a long history of intellectual property aggression, seeking revenue from its patents that are often used across the open source world. The patents surrounding Microsoft's File Allocation Table (FAT) and Extended File Allocation Table (exFAT) file systems caused noticeable tension with the open source Linux community, which has not included the file system technology in its kernel due to patent concerns. Now Microsoft is now making its remaining FAT patents regarding its exFAT specifications available to Linux and members of the Open Invention Network (OIN).

FAT and exFAT are the file system for hundreds of millions of storage devices. Originating with floppy disks, the file system eventually evolved with MS-DOS, Windows, USB devices, and SD cards. Given its ubiquity, according to Microsoft, “it's important to us that the Linux community can make use of exFAT included in the Linux kernel with confidence. To this end, we will be making Microsoft's technical specification for exFAT publicly available to facilitate the development of conformant, interoperable implementations.”

The Open Invention Network is the largest patent non-aggression community in the world, with members agreeing to share patents with each other without needing to pay royalties. Microsoft joined the OIN in 2018, adding 60,000 of its patents to the royalty-free portfolio.

Microsoft is in the midst of an open source renaissance, removing its patent levers in favor of the developer community. Linux, in particular, offers Microsoft an increasingly lucrative opportunity to capture developer mindshare, bolster its developer-friendly reputation, and thwart competitors. To that end, Microsoft has not only accepted Linux, it is actively encouraging its success; in a world where the cloud (including Microsoft Azure) is dominated by Linux servers, aligning with the Linux community is a chance to intertwine the success of the Microsoft ecosystem with that of Linux.

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