Sales and downloads of the freeware Linux operating system, a clone of the UNIX operating system that is ever popular among hackers and computer professionals, are increasing at an astounding rate. Its most important use at present is as an operating system for low-end servers, and that has Microsoft Corporation--which charges $1,000 a copy for its competing Windows NT server operating system--quaking in its boots. But the Linux movement is not stopping there. It has already released a new kernel, version 2.2, which supports many of the functions needed in high-end servers; and graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that will enable ordinary folks to use Linux-based systems as personal workstations have been released for use by the masses. Linux is turning out to be a great success, and it's getting incredible press coverage as a result. Some people working on the TRON Project may consider the success of Linux disheartening, especially considering the fact that it appeared in 1991, which is the same year the first commercially available version the BTRON operating system appeared. But there is no reason to be disheartened. In fact, the success of Linux is good for BTRON. Here's why.
First, Linux is proving just what a great idea open source code and/or open computer architectures are. In doing so, Linux is validating a key concept of the TRON Project--that a system has to be open if it is to serve as the basis for computerizing society. In the early days of the TRON Project, it was "common sense" among the naysayers of the TRON Project to believe that an open system would never be as good as a "proprietary system." Think again. Second, Linux is gaining respect for alternative operating systems in the Management Information Systems (MIS) departments of large companies. It has been none other than the MIS chiefs who have poured billions of dollars into proprietary systems in the belief that they were getting something better. Now they're amazed at what they can get for nothing! Third, just as the TRON Project is producing all sorts of technological freebies that can be used by people in other countries without the payment of royalties, the Linux movement is also producing mountains of technological freebies that can be used by the TRON Project. In particular, Linux is far advanced in the development of software drivers for peripherals, since it runs on so many different types of hardware. The BTRON subarchitecture needs these.
But don't Linux and BTRON compete with each other?
No way! Linux and BTRON are not direct competitors in the present, and they probably won't be in the future. This is because they are based on different computing models. Linux is actually a workstation/server operating system that is going to try to transform itself into a personal computer operating system. As long as non-specialist users can easily install, operate, update, and maintain it, there's a good chance it will succeed. However, compared to BTRON, Linux is a big operating system that requires more main memory and hard disk space. In the TRON Architecture, Linux with a user-friendly GUI has functionality that stradles the CTRON and BTRON subarchitectures. BTRON, on the other hand, is a high-performance, lightweight personal computer operating system that requires considerably less main memory and hard disk space, which is why it is superb for personal digital assistants (PDAs) and Network Computers (NCs). Linux will never be used in PDAs or NCs, because it's simply too big. So the success of Linux today is not coming at the expense of BTRON tomorrow.
Well, if the success of Linux is good for BTRON, and if Linux is not threat to BTRON, is there anything the BTRON subproject can learn from the Linux movement?
Absolutely! The most important thing that the BTRON subproject can learn from the Linux movement is the unbelieveably powerful "synergy" that can develop by working together with people in different countries toward a common technological goal across an open communications medium such as the Internet. This, of course, requires that people at least be able to read and write English, which is the lingua franca of the hackers who write all that wonderful computer source code that's available for free. At present, there is a lot of documentation written about the TRON Project in English, both of a general and a technical nature. That's good, but it's not good enough. In order to write computer source code, you have to talk to someone who knows how to write it. Accordingly, if the BTRON subproject is to succeed on the worldwide scale of the Linux movement, a considerable amount of English-language hacker-to-hacker communication is going to have to take place between those who know how to program BTRON and those who want to learn. I sincerely hope that the people leading the BTRON subproject will learn this extremely important lesson from the Linux movement.
The above opinion is solely that of the author, who wrote it expressly for TRON Web's readers.
Copyright © 1999 Sakamura Laboratory, University Museum, University of Tokyo