Fig. 1 is the screen of my BTRON machine. Since the figure is in black and white [in TRONWARE], it's difficult to discern, but the inside of the initial window is divided by color according to use. The upper area is an area for temporary use where I do such things as place external memory (disk virtual objects) and put virtual objects under preparation temporarily. This is done up in cream color. The area on the right is the area where I put virtual objects that I always use. This is done up in the color of young grass. Specifically, one can see that it is mainly used for four virtual objects: "Niftyserve," "CD Arrangement Table," "General Books," and "Restaurants." These virtual objects respectively start up communications, spreadsheet, and card database software. Furthermore, the backgrounds are things that I designed by myself.
When you double click the "Restaurants" virtual object, restaurants that serve tasty cheese fondue are displayed. This is Fig. 2. In the "Date Utilized" column, I also fill in who I ate with. In addition, although it's covered and cannot be seen in the figure, I have also prepared a column to which virtual objects are pasted as a "Reference." It is very convenient if I paste for future use such things as a map of the restaurant here. Otherwise, I can place memos with my impressions, pictures, and so on. In this manner, I am putting to practical use "the real object/virtual object model," which is one of the merits of BTRON.
The "real object/virtual object" concept is something that is difficult to understand at first, but as you acquire a command of it, you gradually come to understand its merits. And then you end up becoming unable to keep your hands off it. But that's because it's convenient. The reason it's so difficult to understand initially is probably because the idea is too original.
What originally got me interested in TRON was ITRON. It was just around when I was keenly feeling the need for a real-time OS in equipment control. At that time, because I still didn't think it would be possible for individuals to possess computers, to tell the truth, I wasn't very enchanted by BTRON.
Afterward, I bought a personal computer called the FM7. I am no longer using this machine, but because I've got data entered into it, I can't throw it away. I believe that placing consideration on data compatibility in the OS and basic design parts of the computer, as has been advocated in the TRON Project from before, is something that is truly important. Presently, I am using a BTRON subnotebook computer called ZeRO. Moreover, I am planning to also attach a TRON keyboard to it.
To begin with, what is it that we use personal computers for? Whether it's a personal computer or whether it's some other industrial product, originally computers should have been built for the purpose of helping human beings. In spite of that, the "things" we call personal computers that are used throughout society by no means do enough work for us to make up for all the knowledge and effort required to use them. To put it bluntly, we often hear the comment that "it's more convenient not use them." Worse, there are even cases when we end up being forced into using personal computers as our purpose. To put it another way, it would be like cooking in order to use a kitchen knife rather than using a kitchen knife in order to cook.
Well then, how's BTRON? I use it for everything from daily personal data management to communicating via PC networks, and creative activities such as keyboard and logo design, and it "feels good." More than anything else, the operations are intuitive and easy to understand. If one memorizes the mouse operations and a few rules in the manual, a high level of expression not easily possible with another personal computer naturally ends up being possible even for a personal computer novice. Since why this is easily possible is a long story, I will omit it here, but the key words are the terms "the real object/virtual object model" and "TAD." The "real object/virtual object model" is a type of filing system for storing and managing data. A "real object" is the file itself, and the "virtual object" is a thing that's like its business card. That which is called "TAD" are rules for the purpose of making it so that text, pictures, and the like can be written mixed together. It is possible to insert "virtual objects" also into TAD data, and thus using a basic operation even a function like a World Wide Web link is instantly created. Because it is not necessary to spare effort to use it, you can concentrate your brains on the intellectual activities you should be doing in the first place. Once you learn this pleasant feeling, it's no longer possible to go back to something else.
In BTRON, there is a further powerful means of expression. It's the simple language called "MicroScript." As an example of putting MicroScript to practical use, I will introduce the activities of the "Research Society for Teaching Materials based on BTRON." This research society is a volunteer activity that was setup by several people in addition to Ms. Eiko Tachimatsu, a teacher at Tokyo Municipal Minami Ozawa School for Handicapped Children (who at the time of establishment was at Tokyo Municipal Tachikawa School for Handicapped Children), through an appeal I made. Currently, its theme centers on the education of mentally handicapped children. However, that doesn't mean that we are making mentally handicapped children learn about personal computers. We are using personal computers (BTRON) to help the pupils express their will and as a training tool.
When you use MicroScript, you can easily display a picture on the screen and make it respond to what appeals to a pupil (Fig. 3). There are even cases in which you finish making it in less than 30 minutes after getting the idea and saying, "it would nice if we had something like this." Even replacing the picture that's displayed, for example, even arranging variations matched to the likes of a pupil, and so on, is easy because it can be done with a basic operation of BTRON. In the education of handicapped children, because both the type of the handicap and the degree of the handicap are different for each pupil, what's more important than anything else in arranging respectively adapted teaching materials is being able to easily make preparations. The good quality of BTRON's footwork sufficiently responds to this requirement. I think academic proof of a cause and effect relationship is difficult, but I have heard over and over the story that Ms. Tachimatsu used BTRON in class, and that the students were then able to overcome the "barrier" to growth that they hadn't been able to overcome up to that point. Those who are interested in the "Research Society for Teaching Materials based on BTRON," please e-mail me at my address.
These features of MicroScript can be put to use also as powerful presentation tools. I have heard that Ms. Tachimatsu frequently makes presentations at academic meetings, and I understand that her presentations using MicroScript are favorably received each time, and that they have even been greatly admired with comments such as "I can't believe it's something out of this world."
BTRON then is this type of thing, but that doesn't mean there is no discontent with it. However, it's not the discontent one feels with a system that has become worn out and bloated, rather that it is still not mature is the reason for its insufficiency. There can be no mistake that the "greatness of the device" makes one feel expectations of the future; I am confident that it is a sure thing.
Several years ago I had to design a microcomputer application without any experience, and so I carried out an investigation of related materials. In the process, I learned of ITRON. Right then was about the time the first generation 1B/note was marketed, and I got interested in BTRON also. But due to the fact that 1B at that time was quite expensive, I gave up on purchasing one. I began using BTRON after the appearance of 1B/V1.
My hobby is assembling simple hardware. Occasionally I pretend I'm a do-it-yourself programmer, and I've written several pieces of software for machine control use. Before, the only types of software like this ran on DOS, but nowadays there's a lot of software in circulation that makes use of many different GUIs, so we've entered an age when software on a DOS screen isn't very attractive. Because showing this software to my friends and making it a topic of conversation is also one of the pleasures of this type of hobby, the appearance of the control software has also become an important element.
However, compared to DOS, the moment I switch over Windows or the Mac OS, the source code increases in scale, and the amount of labor for development exceeds the scope of a hobby. Furthermore, on the one hand the PC resources required to match the version upgrades of the OS and language software swell, and then I need a lot of courage, since I'll end up connecting a questionable piece of self-made equipment to an expensive late model PC.
Due to these circumstances, what I have been using from a few years ago is a BTRON personal computer and MicroScript. Even for BTRON, the trouble of programming with C language is not much different from that of Windows, but if you use MicroScript, it is possible to write multitasking applications easily compared to other development languages. In particular, troublesome programming surrounding the GUI is almost unnecessary, and in respect to ease-of-use of the programming environment, I believe it has things that should appraised in terms of a simple language. Furthermore, there is the merit that personal computers that run the BTRON OS can be obtained at a comparatively cheap price, and the functionally enhanced version of MicroScript that was prereleased to members of the BTRON Club has been extended just for machine control. More than anything, because the BTRON concept is "a bridge between people and machines," you could say nothing but BTRON could be used for this type of application.
Here I would like to introduce software for displaying data from a GPS [global positioning satellite] receiver as software that I am recently creating (Fig. 4). It displays in an easy-to-see manner latitude, longitude, and other data received from a GPS receiver on a serial connection, and it can transmit control signals. As for the amount of code written for this software, the source program is about 400 lines long, which I believe is under half of what it would be when writing the same type of software in C language. Everyone has a simple impression of BTRON at present, but once you start using it you can do quite a lot with it. I hope you all will also put your BTRON machines to practical use and have a good time.
The above essays by BTRON users appeared on pages 42-45 in Vol. 45 of TRONWARE . They were translated and loaded onto this web page with the permission of Personal Media Corporation.
Copyright © 1997 Personal Media Corporation
Copyright © 1997 Sakamura Laboratory, University Museum, University of Tokyo