FAT16 is the original file system used in DOS and Windows 3.x, and was originally only designed for use on relatively small partitions. It's been revised so that it's possible to make a FAT16 partition up to 4GB in size, but no more than that. FAT32 is a revised version of FAT16 that can be used to create much larger partitions and has native support for long filenames, and was introduced with Win98. Both FAT16 and FAT32 are also backwards- and cross-compatible with older versions of Windows and other OSes. However, both FAT16 and FAT32 suffer from many drawbacks: they have weak error recovery and no built-in file security, just to name two. NTFS, which was introduced with Windows NT, is much more secure and robust than FAT16 or FAT32, and offers better recovery from errors. NTFS is now offered on Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server, although all of the above OS's can also use FAT16 or FAT32. It's generally recommended that NTFS be used except when backwards compatibility is urgently needed.
This was first published in December 2003