CTRON Subproject Personalities

The CTRON subproject of the TRON Project was a great success in Japan, in spite of the fact that it, along with the BTRON subproject, was targeted by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) for derailment. The reason it was successful is that CTRON's development was pushed by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT), which unlike Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., did not do much business overseas at the time. That's because prior to deregulation of telecommunications in Japan, there was a division of telephone services, with NTT providing domestic telephone service, and Kokusai Denshin Denwa Co., (KDD) providing international telephone service. Accordingly, the USTR was unable to threaten NTT with trade retaliation in the form of denial of access to the U.S. market. As a result, the CTRON subproject moved smoothly forward, and even foreigners participated in the development of the CTRON specifications, making it a truly international standard.

The Real Reasons NTT Pursued CTRON

The CTRON specifications were developed to handle centralized communications and data processing in networks. NTT was interested in them to deal with three problems. First, if its equipment suppliers sold their equipment with a basic CTRON operating system, it would alleviate the need for NTT to painstakingly port software applications to different proprietary interfaces, which requires a lot of time and money. Second, the world's telephone networks were scheduled to switch from analog technologies to the internationally agreed upon Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) technologies, so it needed a new real-time operating system for ISDN telephone switching exchanges. Third, it needed a new real-time operating system to support Open Systems Interconnect (OSI), another internationally agreed upon standard for use in computer networks.

The NTT man in the middle of CTRON development was Tetsuo Wasano, who was in charge of NTT's Network Systems Development Center. He described the design of CTRON in a paper at the Third TRON Project Symposium in 1987 along with Masato Ohminami, Yoshizumi Kobayashi, and Toshikazu Ohkubo. Among these, Ohkubo also would go on to play a leadership role in the CTRON subproject in later years. All of these men, and many others who would present papers on CTRON in subsequent TRON symposia, were very talented engineers, and they needed to be, because the drawing up the CTRON specifications was a vastly more complicated job than drawing up either the ITRON or BTRON specifications. Moreover, implementing the CTRON specifications was also a difficult task because it required a small army of programmers.

One of the myths about the CTRON subproject is that it was designed solely for the networking needs of NTT, but this was not true. The CTRON standards could also be used by other businesses, such as the financial services industry, provided their applications could be successfully ported to the new CTRON-specification operating systems. It is for that reason that not just NTT, but many other companies were on the CTRON standards committee, and they also presented papers on CTRON at TRON symposia. Researchers from NEC Corporation, Fujitsu, Ltd., Oki Electric Industry Co., and Toshiba Corp. all presented papers. One of the Toshiba researchers, Kazuhiro Oda, was also on the BTRON standards committee, proving that other companies were interested in the BTRON architecture. Oda would go on to represent the TRON Project overseas.

Foreign Firms Rise to the Challenge

One of the reasons the CTRON subproject came into existence, and which had nothing to do with telecommunications applications, is because Japanese mainframe computer makers were accused in the 1980s of hacking into International Business Machine Corporation (IBM) mainframe computers to make their mainframe computers compatible with IBM's. In fact, in 1982, just two years before the TRON Project was launched, the U.S. government, using undercover operatives, went so far as to set a trap for U.S.-based employees of Japanese computer manufacturers, offering to allow them secret access to a supposedly newly developed computer design. The unlucky U.S.-based employees of Japanese computer manufacturers were subsequently arrested and then paraded in front of the media to show the world how Japan just copied others' technologies.

Then, as soon as Japan decided to create its own unique computer technologies, which were open architecture to boot, the U.S. government started to claim that Japan was creating non-tariff trade barriers, was interfering in markets, and preventing U.S. firms from competing on a "level playing field." What could be more level a playing field than an open architecture? What undercut the argument of the U.S. side even more is that just as the TRON Project was getting started in Tokyo in 1984, Richard Stallman was launching his Free Software Foundation in Boston, and his goal was free software with open source code that couldn't be closed off for everyone. Want to talk about interfering with markets? Well, nothing interferes with them more than free products of the same type. Richard Stallman had taken the openness concept a step further than than even the TRON Project.

Interestingly, while Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate Richard Stallman was in Boston pursuing his version of open computer systems, a fellow MIT graduate with B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering, Diane Zingale, who was employed by Bell Northern Research , Ltd., in Tokyo, was on the TRON Association's CTRON Technical Committee helping to draw up the open architecture CTRON specifications. In fact, she presented a paper at the Sixth TRON Project Symposium in 1989 along with Kazuo Watanabe and Hiroshi Sunaga of NTT Communication Switching Labs. The paper described the basic concept of switching control in CTRON, which was necessary for ISDN circuit switching and packet switching in networks. These specifications were intended for use in the CTRON extended OS.

Another foreigner who eventually got involved with the CTRON subproject was Brad Benton of Tandem Computers Inc., a maker of fault-tolerant computer systems used in ATM networks, banks, financial transactions centers, and telephone switching exchanges. Benton, along with Hirotaka Kokado and Hiroshi Yamada of Tandem Computers Japan, Ltd., presented a paper at the 11th TRON Project Symposium in 1994 on their company's implementation of a fault-tolerant CTRON basic operating system. A U.S. company took up the CTRON challenge and developed a CTRON-based basic operating system, which they were going to install on their company's computers for sale into the Japanese market. The open architecture approach was working. Multiple computers firms were developing operating systems based on common specifications.

The U.S. is not the only country that got involved with CTRON subproject. China also put CTRON to good use in industrial production and factory automation, which contrasts with Japan where CTRON is mainly used in the telecommunications and financial service industries. At the 14th TRON Project International Symposium held in 1998, Sun Ting Cai of China Shanghai CONTEC Co. and Prof. Shen Jianhua of East China Normal University gave presentations. Sun described a CTRON-based universal intelligent controller board that can be inserted into a standard IBM-PC/AT-compatible computer. It is used in power plants, steel mills, and other industrial fields in China. Shen described a CTRON-based real-time data acquisition system for use in collecting computer-controlled assembly line data (e.g., temperature, pressure, etc.) in factories.

There are a couple of reasons that CTRON was able to establish itself in China. One is that a sister TRON association was established in Shanghai, which went on to translate the specifications and other materials into Chinese and hold seminars for interested parties. The second, and more important, was that a free, open source µCTRON kernel was available, along with a free µITRON kernel. So all the Chinese engineers had to do was study the technical materials and then start programming their applications on top of µCTRON and µITRON, which they did. Although the TRON Project started out as an open architecture project, it soon became obvious that to spread beyond Japan's borders, it had to provide some free and open source code, which it eventually did. Yes, the Free Software Foundation way of doing things had taken hold in the TRON Project.

An Interesting Personality

In addition to helping to draw up the CTRON specifications and implementing products based on them, there was also foreign participation in evaluating these specifications. The most noteworthy person who participated in the CTRON subproject in this manner was James D. Mooney, a professor in the Department of Statistics and Computer Science at West Virginia University. He had previously served as the chairman of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Microprocessor Operating System Interfaces (MOSI) standards group, which drew up standards to define an interface between application programs and their operating environments. In the CTRON subproject, it was his job to carefully read through the 10 volumes that make up the CTRON specifications and evaluate them while referencing similar specifications drawn up elsewhere.

Mooney presented his conclusions in a paper he presented at the Fifth TRON Project Symposium in 1988. He noted that the CTRON specifications address some areas that were left out of standards drawn up elsewhere, such as real-time performance, the program/network interface, the program/device interface, and support for OSI. In fact, the CTRON specifications actually define four of the seven layers of OSI, which surprised him. On the other hand, he was quick to point out that the CTRON specifications do not conflict with other standards, and that they were reasonably consistent. He recommended that those drawing up the CTRON specifications should be consistent with the models they were basing the standard on, that they strive not to create too many modules, and that they bind the standard to suitable languages with expert help.