In response to past crises, investments in physical infrastructure have helped the United States recover and thrive after significant challenges. After both the Great Depression and the Great Recession, for example, increased investment in transportation infrastructure was a key part of bringing the American economy back from disaster.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant economic crisis requires a similarly significant response, but it also asks of lawmakers to consider what is next. We can’t just invest in highways—we also need to invest in the technology underpinning the information superhighway. To rebuild from one of the greatest challenges of our time, the United States must invest both in physical and digital infrastructure to secure its recovery.
For the last few years, both Democrats and Republicans have called for major infrastructure investments, only for them not to materialize. These efforts to fund infrastructure investment have focused on the physical world—highways, railroads, bridges. While those are important areas for investment, we must not forget the equal importance of digital infrastructure, especially the free and open-source software (FOSS) that is built mostly by volunteer labor and underpins the digital world. FOSS is even working its way into the physical world, as it is built into our phones, cars, and refrigerators.
FOSS began in the 1980s as an effort to give developers the ability to tinker with and alter software, which was prevented by most software vendors at the time. This led to the “free” in FOSS being defined as “Free as in Free Speech, not as in Free Beer,” although frequently the software was also free of costs. For years, FOSS was primarily the domain of hobbyists, but as computing and the internet became a larger part of daily life, so too did FOSS. The untiring efforts of countless volunteers collaborating remotely eventually led
For years, the Open Invention Network (OIN), the largest patent non-aggression ever, has protected Linux from patent attacks and patent trolls. Now, on October 13, 2020, it expanded its scope from core Linux programs and adjacent open-source code by expanding its Linux System Definition. In particular, that means patents relating to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) 10 and the Extended File Allocation Table exFAT file system are now protected.
That’s important because for those of you with long memories Microsoft used to make billions from Android and exFAT-related patent licenses. Those days are long over, and this buries them for good.
First, Microsoft joined the OIN in 2018. Then, as Erich Andersen, then Microsoft’s corporate vice president and chief intellectual property (IP) counsel said at the time meant “We’re licensing all patents we own that read on the ‘Linux system.'” This includes patents pertaining to the File Allocation Table (FAT), Extended FAT (ExFAT), and Virtual (VFAT).
Then, in 2019, Microsoft went one step further. It announced it was “supporting the addition of Microsoft’s exFAT technology to the Linux kernel.” Developers immediately started adding exFAT to Linux. In May 2020, exFAT was added to the mainline kernel in Linux 5.7.
This is important because ExFAT is based on FAT, one of the first floppy disk file systems. Over time, FAT became Microsoft’s filesystem of choice for MS-DOS and Windows. It would become the default file system for many applications. But, with a hard limit of 4GB file systems, it’s days were numbered.
Microsoft extended FAT to larger and flash memory storage devices such as USB drives and SD cards in 2006 with exFAT. Both FAT and exFAT are used in hundreds of millions of devices including all Android phones. Indeed, exFAT is the official file system for the SD Card