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02.10.13

FAT is Free (Gratis) as Long as You Serve Microsoft’s Agenda

Posted in GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Patents at 8:37 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Just so you know who’s in control…

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Summary: What EFI teaches us about Microsoft’s use of software patents

THE emergence of UEFI restricted boot is probably the latest major attack on computing freedom, or merely the denial of users’ control over their computers (booting control is Microsoft’s, not the users’). UEFI restricted boot helps Microsoft control what people are allowed to do with hardware, not just with software. This is a serious antitrust issue, but it was never pursued by those who are affected in this way. UEFI going mainstream (with FAT as part of) helps Microsoft only as long as Microsoft controls and uses it to tax every device formatted with FAT (when it is used widely by Linux-based devices). And we are talking about software patents that should never have been granted in the first place. TomTom‘s mistake is that it used Linux in conjunction with FAT, which is a Microsoft trap. This whole episode helps teach us that, for monopolists, patents have nothing to do with innovation and everything to do with control, i.e. power over others. The OIN’s CEO confirmed to us that FAT is Microsoft's method of taxing just about any Linux vendor which is claims to be paying for Linux. I recently talked about this with Dr. Garrett, who kindly provided some pointers to the role of FAT patents in UEFI. It’s similar to what we saw in Novell with patent traps like Mono, OOXML, etc. and it should be noted that the Linux Foundation — unlike the FSF — serves Microsoft’s agenda by letting former Novell staff prop up Microsoft with UEFI. SUSE does too. James Bottomley is not alone in this, but here he is in a new article from SJVN:

  • Linux Foundation releases Windows Secure Boot fix

    James Bottomley — Parallels’ CTO of server virtualization, well-known Linux kernel maintainer, and the man behind the Linux Foundation’s efforts to create an easy way to install and boot Linux on Windows 8 PCs — announced on February 8 that the Linux Foundation UEFI secure boot system was finally out.

Please don’t do this. Please file a formal complaint. And as one follower put it in JoinDiaspora.com:

This may come to you as a shock, but I’m not particularly happy with Linux Foundation going that route. Not that I don’t want to have new hardware working with GNU/Linux. It’s just that Linux Foundation is playing Microsoft’s game from now on, and they’re gonna have some pretty tough time playing it later. Once you’re cached you’re actually dead. Never allow yourself to play the game of your enemy. It’s their rules, they know the tricks and they know better than you how to destroy the enemy.

Sad, but true IMHO.

We have studied the UEFI FAT licence and found some information of relevance in Wikipedia

Disk device compatibility

In addition to the standard PC disk partition scheme, which uses a master boot record (MBR), EFI works with a new partitioning scheme: GUID Partition Table (GPT). GPT is free from many of the limitations of MBR. In particular, the MBR limits on the number and size of disk partitions (up to 4 primary partitions per disk, up to 2 TiB (240 bytes) per disk) are relaxed.[19] GPT allows for a maximum disk and partition size of 8 ZiB (270 bytes).[19][20] The UEFI specification explicitly requires support for FAT32 for system partitions, and FAT12/FAT16 for removable media; specific implementations may support other file systems.

[...]

OS loaders are a class of UEFI applications. As such, they are stored as files on a file system that can be accessed by the firmware. Supported file systems include FAT32, FAT16 and FAT12. Supported partition table schemes include MBR and GPT. UEFI does not rely on a boot sector.

There is also a talk about it in Wikipedia:

I’ve also left the information regarding FAT issues on the talk page below. These are certainly an issue for providers of EFI systems and Open Source operating systems, but I don’t think that an article describing EFI needs to get bogged down in a patent discussion: it’s certainly not an issue particularly specific to EFI as compared to any other computer technology. You wouldn’t include a huge patent debate in a digital camera article, even though they use FAT, too…

Tmassey 20:06, 12 January 2006 (UTC)

Regarding FAT, many links are included there too:

According to this presentation from WinHec 2004 (page 15), the EFI System Partition (ESP) is FAT-32: EFI And Windows “Longhorn”

And Microsoft just won the case about the FAT patents: Microsoft’s file system patent upheld

So to use FAT you need to license the IP from Microsoft: Microsoft FAT license (Broken link?)

But you can do that for free if you are implementing EFI, here:

http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/system/platform/firmware/fatgen.mspx

The standard doesn’t say anything about other partitions than the ESP, so that doesn’t rule out MacOS.

So FAT is OK when it puts Microsoft in charge, but it’s a patent trap otherwise. The whole thing is about control, it’s not about innovation, ‘respecting’ patent law, or whatever Microsoft claims it to be. The Linux Foundation must stop being submissive and acknowledge the problem for what it really is. Complicity has no excuses.

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