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Apple's next 'Leopard' release may be at risk due to NetApp's ZFS lawsuit

NetApp may be taking on more than it bargained for in suing Sun.

According to Computerworld, Apple's reported support for ZFS in its upcoming Leopard release may enmesh it in NetApp's legal catfight with Sun:

Apple Inc.'s upcoming Leopard will support the open-source ZFS file system, the company confirmed today -- a move that could embroil it in a patent-infringement lawsuit between Sun Microsystems and storage software maker Net[work] Appliance.

Leopard, also known as Mac OS X 10.5, will include ZFS (Zettabyte File System), albeit in a small way. "Apple will provide limited ZFS support in Leopard," said company spokesman Anuj Nayar today. "It will only be available as a read-only option from the command line."

This, however, is allegedly only the tip of the iceberg of Apple's adoption of ZFS, making the outcome of NetApp's lawsuit important to more than just Sun.

Now, if I were NetApp, there are a few companies that would be extremely unwise to sue or otherwise involve in a lawsuit. Apple is one of those. I don't think I'd want that PR nightmare and the hordes of Apple faithful that would be screaming for NetApp's head.

But it's not just about Apple, of course. It's about what the suit may mean for open source, as Computerworld continues:

Because Sun donated the ZFS code to the open-source community in April, the dispute between NetApp and Sun could end up as a major test case for open-source software, according to storage analysts. "It could be a huge watershed case," [Forrester's Andrew] Reichman said.

"Sun seemed to be trying to take its own intellectual property and put it in the open-source realm, then let it grow there and produce fruit for it and others," said Illuminata's Webster. "But NetApp says, wait a minute, that may not be your intellectual property."

Apple's part could come after the case is decided, assuming NetApp won, said Reichman. "The [ZFS] code is already out there [in the open-source community], so if NetApp won, who would it go after?" Maybe not just Sun. "Companies like Apple, they're the ones NetApp could easily find" exploiting ZFS, he added, and making money from the technology.

Apple, of course, would likely settle and buy a patent license, if it came to that. But it's an open question as to whether it will bother moving ahead with ZFS in the short term given the cloud over the code. This may be precisely what NetApp wants, but wouldn't NetApp be better off finding a way to support the open-source community through ZFS, assuming it has any rights to it (which I believe is highly suspect after talking with Sun)? Lawsuits are the 20th Century's answer to competition.

Open source is the 21st Century's. Get with the times, NetApp.