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Microsoft licensing out exFAT to digicam and mobile manufacturers: what this means for you and me

Microsoft is licensing out exFAT to device manufacturers. This means we might see better storage systems on smartphones and tablets in the near future.
November 8, 2012

Storage is one of the things that can make or break a device. Inadequate storage is a limiting factor in the apps and data you can load on your smartphone or tablet. Additionally, slow storage will also result in a less fluid user experience. Storage in mobile devices is constantly improving, although to reduce cost, device manufacturers will usually still use Flash-based storage systems instead of faster SSDs.

Microsoft, for one, recognizes the need for better storage systems, and has come up with a system called exFAT (which stands for Extended File Allocation Table). This is a proprietary system meant for use on flash drives, and is patented by Microsoft. ExFAT has two inherent advantages over other file systems:

  • exFAT is lighter than NTFS, which comes with a bigger data structure overhead. While NTFS is appropriate for desktop and notebook computers, this is not the case in portables.
  • exFAT doesn’t come with the file size limits in FAT32.

Additionally, exFAT supports bigger file sizes by five times compared to FAT, which it is designed to supersede. Read and write access speed is also improved. Case in point, exFAT is actually scalable up to 512 TiB, and even up to a theoretical 64 ZiB (that’s about a billion terabytes). exFAT also offers better cross-platform support, such as between Windows and OS X.

Now the big news related to the exFAT file system is that Microsoft has started licensing out the technology to manufacturers. A deal with Sharp has been announced earlier this year. Microsoft is also licensing exFAT for use by Sigma and NextoDi high-end cameras and accessories. The company has also licensed exFAT to Black Magic and Atomos, which build broadcast-quality recording devices.

This might not exactly be related to our area of interest, particularly tablets and smartphones. For one, exFAT is now licensed by Sharp for use on Android smartphones and tablets. Once Microsoft gets to work with other brand manufacturers, this will translate to better storage options for mobile users: bigger storage and faster data access. If you’re bogged down by the speed of your phone’s internal storage or microSD card, then exFAT might just change this in the future.

Expect Microsoft to license out exFAT to more manufacturers in the coming months. After FAT, this might just be the file system standard used on future devices.