It seems like our old friends in Redmond, Washington are busy snatching up licensees for its intellectual property. In this case, Microsoft is now getting paid by Sharp for use of its exFAT patent. This patent covers the exFAT file system that is present in many Android devices. Sharp is just another name on the list that includes Sony, Sanyo, SanDisk, Canon, Panasonic, and recently, Honeywell.
Without getting into the deep, complicated mess of file systems, exFAT is the evolution of FAT32. ExFAT, or extended file allocation table, has several benefits over the old school FAT32, primarily in the virtually limitless sizes of files and storage allowances. FAT32 is archaic in that it didn’t natively handle more than 32GB on a partition (many people have 64GB SD cards on their phones) nor did it like individual files over 4GB. Considering the “Dark Knight Rises” in 720p is likely larger than 4GB, you can see the need for a modern file system.
ExFAT solves this problem with the caveat of it being proprietary, meaning Microsoft reserves the right to charge the OEM’s to use it. So why not use another file system? Many of us use NTFS on our home computers, shouldn’t that work? Well, yes. However, the reason Android OEM’s started using exFAT (and not NTFS) was because it was designed specifically for flash memory, the type of memory that lives in our phones and other small devices. It runs a lot leaner and requires less horse power to do the same job. Not to mention, NTFS is proprietary as well. And guess who owns it? Microsoft.
Admittedly, I find myself often lacking in knowledge about some of the stories that come up in the Android world. I am no lawyer, yet a lot of our stories are about the patent trials. I am no developer, but I write about software. In this instance, I am by no means a man of vast Linux knowledge. But I was curious if there were an open source solution to this file system problem (Thank you Google for saving me a trip to the library). Since Android has its origins in the Unix/Linux world, why wouldn’t it use the freely distributed file system?
Apparently, many devices do (or did anyways). In the beginning of the Android march of 2010, several devices used YAFFS (Yet Another Flash File System). However, Ted T’so, a developer at Google, determined that the YAFFS file system would “have been a bottleneck on dual-core systems.” With the Nexus S, Google sought to transition devices over to EXT4, another royalty free file system. Unfortunately, the practice hasn’t appeared to have taken off and many manufacturers are licensing file systems anyway.
I have discovered, however, that many developers offer EXT4 ROM’s that will reformat and move you over to the file system. Just hop on XDA or Google and search for your phone and “EXT4 ROM.”
Otherwise, just sit back and watch more of the patent wars. It seems that these days, it’s easier to come up with a simple concept and make people pay to use it than it is to be truly innovative (Windows Phone, I’m looking at you).