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Microsoft's New Tollgate: exFAT on Flash Media

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Tuxera announced yesterday that they have joined Microsoft's exFAT Program and are developing their own exFAT drivers:

"Tuxera exFAT for Embedded Sytems will be first available for Linux."

What is exFAT and why should you care? Because the SD Card Association made exFAT the standard file system for the new SDXC cards, and because exFAT is a Microsoft filesystem that claims to be like so totally interoperable, but it isn't.

What is this new exFAT filesystem and why is it needed? It supports much larger file sizes than FAT32 and supposedly is much faster. This excellent article on TestFreaks USB Flash Drive Comparison part 2 - FAT32 vs NTFS vs ExFAT has some good information and lot of benchmarks, and says:

"If you don't know what ExFat is...it's basically FAT64, and proprietary to Microsoft and introduced with Windows Vista Sp1"

As usual Microsoft can't tell the truth, but must spin everything to the breaking point:

"Supports interoperability with future desktop OSs."

That's a pretty funny claim for a closed, proprietary filesystem that requires Windows.

Mikko Valimaki, the CEO of Tuxera, kindly answered some questions about exFAT and Linux:

Q: Tuxera is an open-source company-- is the new exFAT driver OSS? Will Linux

and other FOSS operating system users be able to use it?

A: Our agreement with Microsoft does not allow us to develop an open source

exFAT driver at the moment. However, we have been also talking about

this with them. What I think nobody wants is something similar what you

have for example with Linux DVD players: there are open source players

available, but no company can support them because the media companies

will sue right away.

Also please bear in mind that exFAT is not today's technology. We expect

early adoption to start sometime in the next year. All in all, I hope

this issue will be solved before exFAT becomes a de facto standard

Q: Who the heck thought it was a good idea invent yet another filesystem

(exFAT), and then make it a closed proprietary filesystem?

A: Ask Microsoft. It has been clear that FAT and its incarnations like

FAT32 have met their technical limits (max file sizes etc). However, we

actually think NTFS is good for practically all Windows interoperability


But now that Microsoft has successfully pushed exFAT into standards we

have to support it, sooner or later.

Q: Is this a FUSE driver like ntfs-3g?

A: As a company and open source project, we will continue to work with FUSE

for sure. The upcoming exFAT driver is in development and the technical

details will be disclosed when it is complete.

SDXC are the next generation of high-speed high-capacity Flash storage media for cameras, music players, thumb drives, and so on. Toshiba plans to be the first to release a 64GB SDXC card this November, so they're not here quite yet. But they're coming.

Linux needs an exFAT driver. Sure, you can format your SDXC media to whatever filesystem you want, but this won't work for devices like music players and cameras that support only exFAT. How fun it will be to drop a load of money on a nice fast large-capacity SDXC for your camcorder, and then find out you can't see your own movies without Windows. There are rumors of some Linux kernel patches for a read-only exFAT driver, but so far all I've found is a trail of dead URLs.

So it's business as usual in Redmond. Never mind all the fine talk about interoperability, Job One is still controlling the entire tech industry and erecting as many toll gates as posssible. Why not use something like ext2, which it seems to me is a good candidate for a low-overhead fast embedded filesystem? It minimizes writes, supports file sizes up to 64 TiB, and supports different block sizes so you tweak it for your particular application. But good heavens no, because that would require adding a driver to Windows, and even worse would not gouge money out of everyone. No, the MS way is to force a new closed proprietary standard and make everyone else dance to their tune. Ah well, it's economic stimulus in a way, by mandating makework industry-wide. Very innovative.

With no disrespect intended to Tuxera, who wrote and support the NTFS-3G driver for Linux. They're getting into the exFAT game early, so hopefully this will work out for non-Windows users.

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