The Microsoft patent attack

Steven Shankland from CNET sent OSI some questions yesterday about the Microsoft patent lawsuit against TomTom involving the use of Linux in their GPS devices. Here’s what I told him by email:

> Looking at the two complaints, it appears Microsoft is finally asserting
> patent infringement against a product based on Linux, specifically
> involving the file system technology--"A Common Namespace for Long and
> Short Filenames" and "Method and System for File System Management Using
> a Flash-Erasable, Programmable Read-Only Memory." Another implicated
> patent is "Vehicle Computer System With Open Platform Architecture."
> 
> Copies of the U.S. District Court and International Trade Commission
> complaints are here: 
> 
> http://news.cnet.com/i/ne/pg/fd_2009/Complaint.pdf
> http://news.cnet.com/i/ne/pg/fd_2009/2009.02.25_Public_ITC_Complaint_MSFT_TomTom.pdf

I read the Federal complaint this morning [the day the suit was announced]. It’s not very informative, basically just legal boilerplate around a list of patents. The ITC complaint gives a few more hints about their legal posture, but not much.

> --Does this make you rethink any of the intellectual property
> considerations around Linux and open-source software?

Not really. We’ve been expecting Microsoft to mount some kind of patent attack on Linux for years; they’ve certainly rattled that saber often enough.

> --What are the immediate and long-term effects of this on the
> open-source software world?

Too early to say. One thing we can be pretty sure of, however, is that it’s not going to stop Linux from shipping. That would be an extremely difficult thing to manage, since there’s no single throat Microsoft can ask a court to choke.

> --Do you think the Microsoft patents have merit?

We think Microsoft is probably asking itself that same question. Personally, I read this move as a test of the waters in the wake of the Bilski ruling. They’ve picked a small, weak target in order to find out whether software patents still actually work, which is a bit questionable at this point.

Much depends on how the in re Bilski language about association with a machine and “transformation” is construed in this and future cases. At one extreme, it’s quite possible that software above the level of device firmware in ROM is no longer patentable in the U.S., and I’m sure Microsoft wants to know before they commit their money and prestige against a major defendant.

> --Do you think this case will expand beyond just TomTom and Microsoft to
> affect other companies, organizations, or programmers--for example
> discovery reaching out to various programmers?

I’m sure Microsoft will try to make it as big, messy, and scary as they can. But…the subject matter of the complaint is embedded Linux on a GPS; it’s likely TomTom rolled their own lightweight Linux-based firmware build from publicly available sources, so the distribution makers like Red Hat and Ubuntu aren’t in the line of fire.

It’s actually not easy to imagine anyone besides TomTom that Microsoft could fruitfully target with these claims. The only logical possibility, on what’s publicly known at the moment, is the developers of the FAT filesystem code TomTom is using. But there are certainly copies of that code outside U.S. jurisdiction, and plenty of hackers a U.S. court can’t reach who would be delighted to take over development just for the pleasure of poking a finger in Microsoft’s eye.

> --Do you think the filename issue has any repercussions beyond
> Linux--Samba springs to mind?

Oh, lots. For one thing, pretty much every manufacturer of a consumer-electronics device that uses mountable storage like thumb drives or SD cards uses FAT as their media filesystem – digital cameras, for starters. Legal departments all over that industry will be going on high alert right about now.

> --What repercussions does this have for non-embedded Linux companies,
> e.g. Red Hat or IBM?

See above. The short answer is “probably none”, but I’m sure their legal departments have gone to high alert too.

> --What can we expect next in the legal process?

Ask a lawyer, I’m not one. Mark Radcliffe [OSI's lawyer] might comment on the procedural
aspects if you ask him nicely.

> --Any other thoughts?

Here’s one: FAT is no longer essential technology for anybody. It’s an easy, lowest-common-denominator option for device makers, but there’s nothing about it that’s essential to the functioning of a GPS or any other device. File systems for devices at that small a scale aren’t hard to write; there are quite a few available in open source already.

One of the risks Microsoft takes with this move is that the consumer electronics industry will get off its butt and standardize on something open – the flash-memory and thumb-drive manufactures, in particular, have huge business incentives to drive this move if they think Microsoft might target them or their customers.

If so, the long-term effect could hurt Windows pretty badly — because, of course, Linux could fully deploy support for such a standard within a few months from a cold standing start. Suddenly, Windows systems wouldn’t be able to read thumb drives and Linux systems would.

So, strategically, this is a move with huge risks for Microsoft. They could wind up with the entire patent threat neutered by an aggressive reading of in re Bilski, or with the consumer-electronics industry abandoning FAT and handing Linux a huge market advantage. I’m sure these scenarios were discussed within Microsoft before they sued.

Ultimately, the message here may be that, with its Windows profits dropping and Vista a failure, Microsoft is running out of strategic options and desperate. It’s like the second coming of their sock-puppet SCO, and not likely to end any better for them.

UPDATE: While several commenters have ridiculed the possibility that the consumer-electronics crowd could abandon FAT, there is a solution…UDF. Supported by all major operating systems and already in use for large flash media.

56 thoughts on “The Microsoft patent attack

  1. One of the risks Microsoft takes with this move is that the consumer electronics industry will get off its butt and standardize on something open – the flash-memory and thumb-drive manufactures, in particular, have huge business incentives to drive this move if they think Microsoft might target them or their customers.

    If so, the long-term effect could hurt Windows pretty badly — because, of course, Linux could fully deploy support for such a standard within a few months from a cold standing start. Suddenly, Windows systems wouldn’t be able to read thumb drives and Linux systems would.

    Ain’t gonna happen, alas. The installed Windows base is so big that the thumb drive manufacturers would be blamed by consumers for dropping Windows support rather than the other way round. Suppose a new industry-wide standard for removable media was agreed: there would be a huge incentive for each manufacturer to retain FAT so that Windows users could use their products now rather than in 2010 2012 2016 whenever epoch Microsoft finally implement the new standard.

  2. Oh, lots. For one thing, pretty much every manufacturer of a consumer-electronics device that uses mountable storage like thumb drives or SD cards uses FAT as their media filesystem – digital cameras, for starters. Legal departments all over that industry will be going on high alert right about now.

    I’d be willing to bet that most of those companies did what you’re supposed to do when you encounter a legitimate, stood-up-in-court patent: pay the license fee.

  3. >I’d be willing to bet that most of those companies did what you’re supposed to do when you encounter a legitimate, stood-up-in-court patent: pay the license fee.

    You know, until just last week I would have thought so too. That was before Rob Landley explained to me why the structure of the GPS market looks so odd — all those tiny mayfly Asian GPS shippers are shells designed to pump out product in one big surge, rake in bucks, and be folded up before the patent trolls arrive. They’re being run by bigger fish, and almost certainly not buying FAT licenses.

    At the very least, this suggests that the big fish are quite willing to flout “legitimate” U.S. patents if they think they can get away with it. Considering what a palace of bullshit our patent system has become it’s hard to blame them.

  4. >The installed Windows base is so big that the thumb drive manufacturers would be blamed by consumers for dropping Windows support rather than the other way round.

    Right. It’s not a huge risk – yet.

    But with sales of Linux-based netbooks surging in Asia, it could become a serious one. Remember where these guys are mostly based.

  5. Is there an existing filesystem that would be easily implementable by hardware manufacturers for memory cards, or would it end up being better for someone to design a new one?

    I wouldn’t think a change of filesystem would really be a major problem. Hardware manufacturers would just do what they’ve always done: ship a “driver” disk (with the filesystem driver for Window/Mac) with the cards that adds support for the new “memory card” filesystem. A lot of USB storage devices seem to ship with some kind of “driver” and software disk that Windows users are expected to load anyway, so I don’t see that a new filesystem would really be a major problem.

  6. >Is there an existing filesystem that would be easily implementable by hardware manufacturers for memory cards, or would it end up being better for someone to design a new one?

    There’s a Linux one that’s designed to do write balancing to extend device lifetimes. I’ve heard it’s pretty good and pretty tight.

    >Hardware manufacturers would just do what they’ve always done: ship a “driver” disk (with the filesystem driver for Window/Mac) with the cards that adds support for the new “memory card” filesystem.

    Agreed. Not the showstopper some make it out to be. I rate the risk as “not huge” mainly because the Asians would have a coordination problem, not because the technical or deployment problems are particularly hard.

  7. There’s a Linux one that’s designed to do write balancing to extend device lifetimes. I’ve heard it’s pretty good and pretty tight.

    You mean jffs? That is intended more for raw MTDs, such as the internal root device of the OLPC XO, rather than things like SD cards and USB thumbsticks which have write balancing built into the controller.

    >Hardware manufacturers would just do what they’ve always done: ship a “driver” disk (with the filesystem driver for Window/Mac) with the cards that adds support for the new “memory card” filesystem.

    Agreed. Not the huge issue some make it out to be. I rate the risk as “slight” mainly because the Asians would have a coordination problem, not because the technical or deployment problems are particularly hard.

    Wrong. It’d be a huge deal. The bar has been set, and the expectation now is that you buy a device, plug it in, and It Just Works.

  8. Here’s one: FAT is no longer essential technology for anybody. It’s an easy, lowest-common-denominator option for device makers, but there’s nothing about it that’s essential to the functioning of a GPS or any other device.

    From a pure, raw, technical standpoint you’d be right. But for any device you can plug in to a PC, the rule is “if it doesn’t work with Windows, it doesn’t work”.

  9. IMHO, I think there is less to this than meets the eye. From what I have seen company’s tend to start to “enforce their patent rights” when they are in their death throes. I think MS is far from its death throes. They still have lots of money and a very dominant position. No doubt the structure of the future doesn’t work well for them, and they have not showed themselves to be adaptive recently, however, I’d rate their stock as somewhere between “hold” and “sell”, it is nowhere near “short”.

    I think there are two prongs going on here. Firstly, I agree that they are probably using this as an opportunity to test the new status of software patents (wrt In re Bilski, and btw Bilski has applied for cert to the USSC so we will see if this goes to the top) and a few other relevant cases at the federal appellate level.

    However, I also think that there is something else going on. I think it is likely that MS wants to get into some space related to what Tom Tom do, and are using their patents to beat up and weaken a competitor. (Generally speaking that is what patents are used for.) This is particularly relevant given MS’s moves toward in car platforms like the In Sync thing they did recently. I don’t know what they are doing, but them’s the dots I would join.

    Frankly, I think they are a little scared to go after the OSS community on the basis of patents. There is a pretty big downside for them in that area.

    Regardless, it just goes to re-emphasize how utterly damaging the patent system is to our economy. The only reason the economy it doesn’t grind to a halt is because the patent system is one of the most inefficient parts of the federal government (and that is saying something.) To put it another way, the manifest evil and destructive powers of the patent system are offset only by the gross incompetence with which it is implemented.

    I think it is funny when people (especially patent lawyers) speak is voices of disgust against “patent trolls”. All a patent troll is is the use of market forces to attempt to make the patent system run a little more efficiently. Consequently, it pulls back the covers on just how utterly damaging patents truly are. Perhaps patent trolls are the bitter medicine we need to cure us of the sickness that the patent system is to our ailing economy.

  10. >The bar has been set, and the expectation now is that you buy a device, plug it in, and It Just Works.

    An “expectation” Microsoft itself ia about to violate with FAT64. I guess they didn’t get the memo.

    >“if it doesn’t work with Windows, it doesn’t work”.

    There. Fixed that for ya.

  11. I think it is funny when people (especially patent lawyers) speak is voices of disgust against “patent trolls”. All a patent troll is is the use of market forces to attempt to make the patent system run a little more efficiently. Consequently, it pulls back the covers on just how utterly damaging patents truly are. Perhaps patent trolls are the bitter medicine we need to cure us of the sickness that the patent system is to our ailing economy.

    Indeed. Patent trolls exist because it is costly to establish yourself as a new technology company with patents on your side, if you intend to deploy those patents against established players. We’ve all heard the story of the scrappy startup who tried to sue or negotiate licensing payments with BigCo (I’ve heard both IBM and HP in this role), only to be told, “So you want to sue us for violating this patent? Well, I’m sure our legal department can find a thousand of our own patents that you violate.” Therefore, coming to market with an actual product no longer makes economic sense, and licensing raw IP becomes more attractive.

    Regardless, it just goes to re-emphasize how utterly damaging the patent system is to our economy. The only reason the economy it doesn’t grind to a halt is because the patent system is one of the most inefficient parts of the federal government (and that is saying something.) To put it another way, the manifest evil and destructive powers of the patent system are offset only by the gross incompetence with which it is implemented.

    “So this is the banality of evil that Hannah Arendt wrote about…” –Mary Jo Pehl

  12. Ahem, no, Jeff’s right. You predict that as soon as these manufacturers change filesystems, Windows will no longer be able to recognize them while Linux will. I predict that every manufacturer will now add a CD with Windows drivers to their package.

    And as much as I’d like it to be otherwise, you’re being unrealistic with the “if it doesn’t work with Windows, it doesn’t work”. And you should know it.

  13. jffs? Superceeded by jffs2, which has an effective 8MB limit. NAND support only recently showed up as well. Still beta. Bad.

    LogFS is expected to replace jffs2 at some point (when its ready). It passed its test suite last November.

    So unless you’re willing to live with YAFFS, you’re short of a solution *today*.

    (Means that I too am curious which solution esr was referencing.)

  14. If so, the long-term effect could hurt Windows pretty badly — because, of course, Linux could fully deploy support for such a standard within a few months from a cold standing start. Suddenly, Windows systems wouldn’t be able to read thumb drives and Linux systems would.

    Manufacturers would either have to pay Microsoft a licensing fee, or their devices wouldn’t work with Windows… and you see this as a problem for Microsoft?

    Truly, you live in your own little world.

  15. To clarify the “driver disk” thing – I was thinking here of all the devices I’ve had that are automatically recognized by Linux as “USB Storage” devices, but that nonetheless came with a “driver disk” for Windows. The expectation that there’ll be a “driver disk” with a device for Windows has been around for many years, so I’d be surprised if there was much complaint about one that enabled a new filesystem.

  16. Regarding FAT: for TomTom and other embedded devices which do not work as HDD, or require driver anyway it would be failrly easy to switch to other filesystem than FAT. It is, from what I understand, for internal use only.

    BTW. isn’t TomTom Dutch company? How much it is affected by U.S. patent system, then, and things like injunction?

  17. BTW. isn’t TomTom Dutch company? How much it is affected by U.S. patent system, then, and things like injunction?

    If TomTom attempts to market products in the U.S., they could easily run afoul of U.S. patent law.

  18. > “So this is the banality of evil that Hannah Arendt wrote about…” –Mary Jo Pehl

    I think that patents are bad, even evil, however hardly as evil as that to which Ms. Arendt’s statement refers.

  19. > If TomTom attempts to market products in the U.S., they could easily run afoul of U.S. > patent law.

    I think you’ve failed to account for the various patent treaties.

  20. To clarify the “driver disk” thing – I was thinking here of all the devices I’ve had that are automatically recognized by Linux as “USB Storage” devices, but that nonetheless came with a “driver disk” for Windows. The expectation that there’ll be a “driver disk” with a device for Windows has been around for many years, so I’d be surprised if there was much complaint about one that enabled a new filesystem.

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen a USB storage device that came with such a “driver disk”. The local Micro Center sells thumbdrives and SD cards out of an engineer’s parts bin near the cash register. Plug them into any Windows machine with a USB port or card reader slot, and they Just Work, period. That is the goal.

    As for FAT64, one official update from Microsoft and Just Workitude has been restored for all relevant devices.

  21. Sorry, Eric, but I gotta agree with the other side on this one. At this point, the bar has been set: people have become so accustomed to buying external storage, plugging it into their Windows boxen, and having things Just Work that any such device that requires an external driver to be loaded would be massively rejected in the marketplace. I can’t see any feature that would override that expectation of ease of use.

  22. Russel: I can buy a 4 GB memory thumb drive for under $10. I can buy an 8 GB one for about $18.

    I have no idea why Microsoft is doing this; that FAT patent is all but unenforceable in the current market.

  23. Russell, I’d agree if the cost of a typical thumb drive was as low as $50, and would drop to maybe $20 without native Windows support. They’re cheaper than that, and rebates and discounts are so common that anyone who pays more than $30 for any size of USB drive but the largest is either desperate or naive. The cost of the FAT license is down in the noise, if indeed drive makers are paying one at all.

  24. UPDATE to the post: While several commenters have ridiculed the possibility that the consumer-electronics crowd could abandon FAT, this comment over at tuxmachines says that ext3 works just fine on flash-memory devices and loadable Windows drivers are readily available for it. And, of course, users would only have to load that driveronce

  25. Or rather, they’d have to load that driver on every machine they wish to use their thumb drive on, many of which they may not have administrator access to, and most of which they won’t know about ahead of time.

    I for one didn’t intend to ridicule your suggestion, but I really don’t think it’s going to happen that way.

  26. > From a pure, raw, technical standpoint you’d be right. But for any device you can plug in to a PC, the rule is “if it doesn’t work with Windows, it doesn’t work”.

    It’s not obvious that a device has to be FAT to include a driver that it installs so it can work on windows.

    To put it another way, why can’t a device on first plug in install the relevant windows driver?

  27. > To put it another way, why can’t a device on first plug in install the relevant windows

    On first plugin: this sounds like autorun; this works if and only if Windows recognizes the device and the formatted partition on it; if it does not, there is an unknown format for our beloved :-) operating system and it cannot access. It’s a kind of “chicken and egg problem”.
    So, that driver must be installed before plugging in that device.

  28. To put it another way, why can’t a device on first plug in install the relevant windows driver?

    SanDisk tried this bullshit. Plug a SanDisk thumbdrive in marked “U3″, and it will register itself as two USB storage devices: one a USB hard disk, and the other a USB CD-ROM. The Autorun on the “CD” loads, and installs this bullshit U3 software which is a “technology” that keeps programs’ configuration and data on the thumbdrive instead of on your local hard disk/in the registry.

    In short, no, I don’t want stuff installing drivers behind my back when I plug it in. I say this out of the Kantian categorical imperative: magic auto installs are bad for me and even bad for mythical creatures like Aunt Tillie and the Average User.

  29. Andy, chicken and egg problem: where would the driver be stored and accessed from during the install?

    Not only that, but if I hand a consulting customer a USB stick, he sticks it in his machine, and it demands to install software in order to be used, he’s going to jerk it back out of the socket and ask me what in the precise fuck I think I’m giving him – and, if I’m unlucky, throw me the hell off the job. After all, that’s indistinguishable from his point of view to me handing him a stick with a virus on it.

    Eric, ext3 might work just fine on flash, and getting the driver installed might well be no big deal (assuming that the user has admin rights, not always the case – and if he doesn’t do you REALLY want to circumvent Windows security to install it? Think carefully…), but it’s still a hump the user doesn’t have to surmount now, and there needs to be a *very* compelling reason for him to do so.

  30. Microsoft could use these patents to go after not just Linux, but any filesystem and portable device at all. I hope cool heads prevail at trial, or we’re all going to have to pay a tribute to Redmond whether we want to or not.

  31. Ken and Jay: they’re obviously not paying the patent fee now. Microsoft’s point is to GET them to pay it, and ONCE that cost is being paid, somebody will have a reason to ship an empty partition and save the money.

  32. Jeff, it was the U3 stuff I was thinking of when I mentioned the problems with autoinstalling software. I’ve got a couple of Sandisk Cruzer Micro USB keys, and the very first thing I did with both was scrub the U3 stuff off entirely.

    Russell: you’re assuming that the patent fee would add enough cost to an individual USB key that there’d be a competitive advantage in doing something else. I’m far from convinced that’s the case; even a dollar a pop (which would produce a lot of revenue) would not be enough to overcome the expectation that they could just be plugged in and work without additional drivers. It’d have to be more like $20, and I doubt Microsoft is that stupid.

  33. >Russell: you’re assuming that the patent fee would add enough cost to an individual USB key that there’d be a competitive advantage in doing something else.

    I think this is a reasonable position. Not certain to be true, but quite likely.

    The flash industry — the consumer-electronics industry in general – is extremely sensitive to even small changes in unit costs. The real question here is whether Microsoft could set the per-unit licensing fee higher than its cost of collection and enforcement without creating enough incentive to send the Asians to the exits.

    The key reason for skepticism on this core is that they’re already having a tough time finding that window with netbooks, which are at a much higher price point.

  34. Jeff Read: SanDisk tried this bullshit. Plug a SanDisk thumbdrive in marked “U3″, and it will register itself as two USB storage devices: one a USB hard disk, and the other a USB CD-ROM. The Autorun on the “CD” loads, and installs this bullshit U3 software which is a “technology” that keeps programs’ configuration and data on the thumbdrive instead of on your local hard disk/in the registry.

    Holy pants! I’d thought of doing something like that–an ISO 9660 filesystem containing the proper drivers which would let you access the main partition–but I dismissed the thought out of hand, reasoning that it was an eye-searingly ugly solution to the problem, and that nobody would seriously ship such a thing.

    Clearly, I need to lower my standards.

    But, come to think of it, what’s wrong with shipping an unformatted thumb drive, and letting the user format it before first use? Still a bit of a hassle, but nobody needs to muck around with drivers in that case, and the cost is once-per-drive.

  35. @grendelkhan: “But, come to think of it, what’s wrong with shipping an unformatted thumb drive, and letting the user format it before first use? Still a bit of a hassle, but nobody needs to muck around with drivers in that case, and the cost is once-per-drive.”

    User convenience – same reason pre-formatting has been standard all the way back to floppy disks. It’s a jarring imposition to put in a USB stick or floppy and then have to wait to format the thing. Not a huge one, but enough that you couldn’t buy unformatted floppies and now can’t buy unformatted USB sticks.*

    * in the consumer space, I’m sure you could if you tried, YMMV etc.

  36. grendelkhan, at least your idea kind of solves a problem — one created by pure politics but still. The U3 nonsense doesn’t really do anything that isn’t already done by following the old maxim of keeping private configurations private. Unfortunately, Windows developers have been breaking that rule ever since they picked up the habit of shitting all over WIN.INI in the 3.x days instead of using GetPrivateProfileString and WritePrivateProfileString to maintain private config files.

    Windows is such a ghetto not only because of Microsoft but because of the standards and practices accreted by third-party developers. That’s why people bitch about Windows security, finally get some semblance of security, and then bitch that all their old shit doesn’t work or pops up a “do you really want to run this? y/n” dialog box.

  37. All this talk of removing FAT from flash devices necessarily breaking Windows compatibility, has no one considered UDF? It has full read-write implementations on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and all the major *BSDs; surely there’s little compatibility issues to be considered to switch to using UDF.

    On the other hand, the lack of utilities related to UDF might be an issue; I remember a few years ago, I couldn’t find any fsck.udf equivalent at all, which actually turned me down from using the filesystem on a flash device myself (perhaps that has changed by now? I don’t know).

  38. I’m with Miles on this one. From the end-users point of view, there is such a thing as “the computer”, which means hardware + windows + office + internet explorer as one device. This is “the computer”, as such. Everything else, hardware or software, is seen as an accessory. If an accessory does not work with “the computer”, that’s always seen as the fault of the accessory, not the fault of “the computer”.

  39. UDF sounds like a good idea. I also like the idea of doing the thumb drive as CD-ROM (or DVD-ROM), so Windows can read it, but then send back a “Thumb-Drive” or “USB” label. Problem solved.

    In other words, it seems to me it’s all a non issue. If MS wants to start licensing FAT to the Flash/Thumb drive manufacturers (or others who are using FAT), the licensing fee will have to be absolutely minuscule in order to not push them into using other viable options. And the minuscule fee will probably not be worth MS’s while.

  40. UDF is the win. Supported everywhere: Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, the lot.

    I did some research and found it’s already in use on large flash media.

  41. I, for one, welcome our new UDF overlords.

    But the thumbdrive makers will likely just license the patent. Which means we have to.

  42. How large is “large”, Eric?

    UDF does seem to be the right answer…but I need to figure out how to format a USB stick that way myself. OS X does not offer UDF as a formatting option in Disk Utility, as far as I could determine.

  43. >How large is “large”, Eric?

    Dunno; I didn’t see a figure.

    >OS X does not offer UDF as a formatting option in Disk Utility, as far as I could determine.

    It’s the udftools package under Linux. There might be an OS X port of that.

  44. UDF — particularly read/write — is not supported universally on all media. Tools is the problem. ESR: udftools, like most fs tools, is pretty particular to the Linux implentation, I think.

  45. UDF does seem to be the right answer…but I need to figure out how to format a USB stick that way myself. OS X does not offer UDF as a formatting option in Disk Utility, as far as I could determine.

    They dropped support for it recently.

    Looks like FAT is our only option.

  46. Mike, it should not count as “supported by the Mac” if you can’t do it from the GUI.

  47. It’s right there on Apple’s site, creating UDFs on Mac OS X is supported even if you don’t have a pretty button to do it.

    Plus, that’s all it is… creating volumes. That’s not even speaking about mounting UDF volumes, which I can only assume is as simple as plugging in a device that contains such a volume as is the case on Windows and most Linux distributions per default, as well as *BSD distributions configured to run as a usual desktop; would strike me as very strange if this is not true of Mac OS X as well, considering how much Apple likes to flaunt about its ease-of-use.

  48. > Mike, it should not count as “supported by the Mac” if you can’t do it from the GUI.

    That makes little sense.

  49. I have two questions:

    1. What will happen with all the devices that expect FAT-only storage? If device owners find they cannot use the products available on the market, it is gong to be easy: they’ll be pushed to buy an “upgraded” model or to learn how to reformat their flash cards. However, what will happen with all the devices which are stilll manufactured and traded? A firmware upgrade can be quite costly and while it is the cheaper alternative for navigation devices where storage is a permanent, fixed part of the appliance, why should this be the case (on the short term) for other devices?

    2. What is the impact on the ability of (non-Novell branded) open source OSs to interoperate with FAT formatted storage devices? Isn’t the ability to even use vFAT restricted by the patent?

  50. Jay, it is just as Eric says. These folks think in terms of saving pennies per device. That’s a big deal to them, when their volumes are in the millions. Save a penny per device at that volume and you’re talking a cool $10,000. That will pay for a month or two of engineering time … just to save one cent. How much do you think Microsoft plans to rape them for? More than one cent, I’ll bet.

  51. Relevant article. There’s just one problem: By the time Unisys started suing, GIF was well enough entrenched that the Web development community didn’t really move away from it, at least not until things like Firefox became popular. Add to that crappy-to-nonexistent PNG support in leading browsers (for values of leading browsers roughly equal to {IE}). Real Web designers used professional tools such as Photoshop, whose developers paid for their GIF patent license like good citizens. If you were fosstarded enough to use something like GIMP and bitch about software patents on your personal page (BURN ALL GIFS OMG!!!) then you would be laughed at by your professional colleagues. As a target of such derision, I know.

  52. @Jeff Read – that’s why Wikipedia (or, specifically, the Wikimedia Foundation) is so hot on free and unencumbered formats. PNGs all the way, baybee. GIFs only for animations. Ogg bloody Theora.

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