Linux wins access to next-generation CDs

Your refresher on Mount Rainier

Exclusive After months of closed-door negotiations, open source developers are now sure of royalty-free access to one of the most significant new storage formats of the future: Mount Rainier.

Mount Rainier is a CD format devised with the goal of replacing CD-RWs and - eventually - floppy and superfloppy formats, such as Iomega's Zip disks.

Unlike today's rewriteable optical disks, Mount Rainier CDs will allow users to drag-and-drop data to the disk, dispensing with the need for slow formatting operations, and will provide similar error correction for removable media. So Mount Rainier CDs will simply behave like hard drives or floppies, and the format applies to rewriteable DVDs too, potentially making it a core medium for enterprise storage.

Mount Rainier is needed because CD-RWs "are still too complicated to use for most users," says Philips' Eggert Gudmundsson.

Mount Rainier began life two years as an initiative from Philips and included Sony, Microsoft and Compaq as core promoters. Native OS support is critical to its success, but the breakthrough for providing free software developers with royalty-free access has only just been made.

However, these four Core Promoters' originally insisted that knowledge and access to the format layer of the media was to part of the licensed specification, which was effectively closed says
Linux IDE guy Andre Hedrick, now heading his own Linux ATA Development Storage Consultant Group and a name familiar to Reg readers from the CPRM-on-ATA wars.

The most contentious aspect was that basic commands to create MRW media from CDRW, in native MRW hardware were closed. This would have created a lucrative business for Mount Rainier licensees in selling preformatted MR media, but excluded open source device driver writers from royalty-free access to Mount Rainier. The original specifications also blocked a back-door for these developers, by ensuring that a 'BLANK MEDIA' command on preformatted MRW media rendered the disk a conventional CD-RW.

Gudmundsson disputes Hedrick's version of the events. He says the intention was always to provide Royalty-Free access, but that a clarification was made between the command set, and the physical layer.

"This is all pretty strange - there's been no change," he told us.

Elephant Gun

"The objective was to ensure there were no licensing fees for the most basic parts," Hedrick told us. "My concern was making sure that simple operations needed to use Mount Rainier devices and create Mount Rainier media were open-specced so they work in native format. It wasn't open to begin with."

Agreement was finally reached to open the specifications at a meeting last week.

"The physical layer document will be licensed to anyone who signs an adoptor's agreement, royalty-free" says Gudmundsson. "The command set was part of the MMC standard, and open document anyway"

At issue was the clarification of the boundaries of what should be published as an open spec and what should be published under license from the Mount Rainier Working Group.

"Microsoft stated, if I were to bypass any parts of licensed documents, then I'd have four 900lb gorillas on my back," said Hedrick. "That's OK. I carry an elephant gun."

"Linux is taking over the server market, and I argued that when people discover they can't use this format on Linux, the spec would not be adopted."

A commercial name for the format is not agreed yet, and for now the working groups punningly refer to "CD-MRW".

Mount Rainier compatible drives should not be more expensive than equivalent non-compatible CD-RWs, according to Gudmundsson. The first drives should appear in the stores by the end of the year, he reckons, although the advantages won't be seen until
operating systems support the drives natively. ®

Related Link

Mount Rainier Working Group

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