Nathan Thompson

With my kiss and makeup with Ars being official, seems like the perfect time to mention an article written with the usual aplomb by the always excellent Jim Salter, "The exFAT filesystem is coming to Linux—Paragon software’s not happy about it." I stumbled upon said article via a blurb over at OSNews.{1}

Look, first things first, I do not think the original communication was meant for widespread dissemination, but if you send a press release to journalists, they are likely to report upon said press release. Sorry Paragon. Also, while I have a heavy preference for open source in my general computing systems and even ancillary devices as well, I am not opposed to using closed source, proprietary licensed software.

In this particular case, I have a several years old customer relationship with Paragon Software. Initially while testing their HFS+ for Windows driver, but not 100% sure I ever purchased a license key given my use case expanded to encompass differing filesystem compatibility requirements. Later I extensively used their extFS{2} for Mac driver during the last years of my Mac to Linux transition (2014-2016){3}. More recently, as in 2018-2020, I have been utilizing the Linux File Systems for Windows{4} driver. In fact, I think my old video game capture box must have licensed Paragon filesystem drivers as well, given the licensing statement in the documentation.

{1} A fantastic independent tech news site, please people, support independent outlets before they are all gone.

{2} Yes, ext not exFAT. The former being the default basic file system for Linux (ext4 the newest revision) and the latter a Microsoft developed file system largely relegated to use on USB flash drives and SD cards.

{3} I figured the best method for file system compatibility was to make my Macs speak ext instead of worrying about HFS Extended fluency on Linux, given the latter file system is pretty much a Mac only concern.

{4} The Windows driver is very similar to the Mac OS X driver, read/write support for EXT 2/3/4, in addition to read only support for Btrfs and XFS.

Rewind, so what exactly is the problem again?

Glad you asked. Paragon, as shown by my own experience with the company, has a long history of licensing file system tools and most relevantly for this, actual drivers for various non native file systems on various platforms. Even stipulating that Paragon has devoted themselves assiduously to being the best file system driver company on the market, an open source alternative could have grave impact upon their business. Their proprietary drivers could remain the cream of the crop, but Samsung releasing a Microsoft sanctioned, open source Linux kernel exFAT driver presents two problems for Paragon:

    1. Free, as in cost, or gratis, makes a paid alternative a difficult financial proposition.
    2. Even worse, free as in sharing code, or libre, means other projects such as Android could widespread adopt the open source driver for their own uses, given licensing compatibility of course.

Presuming either or both assertions are indeed correct, thus shrinking the market for Paragon to sell their own exFAT driver. Understanding their complaint as such, Paragon does not like that Samsung is replacing the older, possibly janky, FUSE{5} driver with a more performant, in kernel, open source alternative.

Paragon may have to largely cede the Android and wider Linux market to its open source competitor. However, instead of going gently into their good night, Paragon has raged at the dying of their market opportunity{6} by seemingly spewing FUD about the safety and performance of open source alternatives. Rather oddly, Paragon inexplicably dragged Samba into their spat!

{5} FUSE stands for Filesystem in Userspace. The main knock against such filesystem interfaces is generally performance related, but I am far from an expert here.

{6} Have you really lived until you have bastardized Dylan Thomas?

Q&A Time!

Should Paragon be salty?

Perhaps, but that's the beauty of competition. Compete or die.

Does Paragon have the right to claim ownership of this market?

No, given Microsoft owns any patents and copyrights around exFAT, Paragon is merely a licensee of Microsoft's technology. Unless Paragon has an exclusive contract with Microsoft over exFAT implementation on non Windows devices, they have no standing to bring forth any substantive complaint.

What is the state of licensing on exFAT?

Microsoft traditionally held exFAT close to their vest, only allowing paid licensees to use the code. However, as far as I know, Microsoft published a specification for use and donated all relevant patents to the Open Invention Network (OIN) thus allowing any interested party to developed their own driver.

Can Paragon continue to sell their own exFAT driver/solutions for Linux?

Yes, of course and if performance and/or features are competitive, they can still carve out a niche market, but I honestly have no experience with this particular Paragon driver (exFAT on Linux). In fact, Paragon claims they are one of the safest routes as far as licensing, given their reading of the licensing terms of the open source exFAT kernel driver for Linux and the current availability of said kernel driver.

Look, given the inevitability of the open source kernel driver being widely adopted by Linux based projects, I caution Paragon not to burn any bridges with their potential remaining customer base. As mentioned, I use their products, I actually like their products, and will likely give them a one time pass on this issue.

Pointing out why their offerings are still competitive because of performance or other technical considerations, or even because of licensing concerns surrounding GPLv2 code and current availability of the kernel driver, sure, do that, but we do not need any classic Microsoft "Get the Facts" style FUD spreading.

I will presume the press release was just poorly worded because their licensing page is much more practically worded. One can only wonder.