Oracle’s corporate greed of ZFS is harmful to global social wellbeing

ZFS is a file system that should be run on every computer there exists, regardless of its size or form factor. In contrasto to most other file systems, including HFS+ (Apple OSX), exFAT (Windows), ext4 (Android), or NFS (Unix), ZFS constantly monitors the integrity of its data. 

    The problem of data corruption used to be a chronic problem in computers of the past, but although much improved today, the problem still persists—and will likely get worse as the amount of data stored by most users drastically increases. Data corruption or bit rot often occurs invisibly, and users seldom become aware of the loss until they try to use the data once again. The file might exist, but the information it contains is no longer exactly that which was originally written on it. These types are problems are hidden in most of all file systems, with perhaps the exception of btfs (B-tree file system)—which is an imperfect imitation of ZFS.

    ZFS was originally developed by Sun Microsystems, a company which although no longer exists created in its heyday a lot of revolutionary products in use today: Java, thin client computing, and virtual machines. Although initially a proprietary file system when invented in 2005, Sun made ZFS open source, therefore allowing in principle all other computer companies to implement it into their own operating systems. However, today almost no linux distributions, including Apples BSD variant, use ZFS in spite of its importance—the reason being that Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems in 2010, and closed ZFS off to the rest of the world by 2014.

    This is a particularly important example of the noxious effect of corporate culture on the general social wellbeing given the vast increase in everyday use of computing systems across all segments and sectors of society. The use of computers in nearly every social realm—from government processes to automobiles and even light bulbs, means that computers are ‘everywhere’, and will be more so in the future with the rise of the ‘internet of things’ (IoT). The need for all computers to store and retrieve information—without which they would be useless-thus makes the ZFS issue have truly global implications for both rich and poor, desktop or mobile, developed or less developed, old and young alike.

    ZFS is something akin to clean water that is required by everyone, but which—at the moment—only a few have access to. The widespread adoption of ZFS would drastically increase the integrity of data all over the world if it were adopted by all computer and mobile operating systems, in that it would make these much more reliable and stable platforms. ZFS, like water, is much too important to be closed off from the rest of the world as Oracle is doing at the moment. As John Kenneth Galbraith once remarked, the pervasive social role of corporations defacto turns the largest of these from private entities into public ones.

    We have to therefore applaud Canonical’s decision to release its Debian/Linux derivative Ubuntu version 16.0.4 with ZFS embedded directly into the operating system. As PC World has revealed, Canonical is rightly challenging Oracle’s control of ZFS, something which few other linux distros would be able to do. Ubuntu has become one of the most popular common day distributions for it ease of use, and closely approximates Apple’s OSX in its ‘tone’ and ‘feel’. (Other Linux variants are much more common in on servers, but curiously many web service companies are also starting to migrate to the Ubuntu platform.)

    Ubuntu’s success in thwarting Oracle’s monopoly of ZFS will be truly groundbreaking, and we wish them the best of luck in their endeavours.


PS. Yes, I know. One can get ZFS and install it on various operating systems, and there are NAS systems with ZFS built in ( There are multiple reasons accounting for the absence of ZFS, including corporate greed, and Btrfs is being actively developed by Oracle as its substitute. The principal point of this piece is to emphasise that these are all haphazard measures that are not built into the very core of the systems. One, for example, can install ZFS on a Mac, but not be able to run the operating system on it. (Long story which you can read about HERE. ) ZFS is simply too good to be partitioned off ONLY to storage, but should be the building block of all operating systems. Remember that the use of ZFS would have significant security implications as well, making it that much harder for hackers or the NSA to rootkit (hack) a computer. Until Oracle "open sources" ZFS, most companies will back away from its use--in spite of recognising the enormous technical benefits of its implementation.

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