Microsoft Joins the T-Engine Forum

Steven J. Searle

Web Master, TRON Web

On September 25, 2003, the T-Engine Forum and Microsoft Corporation announced at a joint press conference in Tokyo that Microsoft had decided to join the T-Engine Forum, which is creating a series of standard development platforms aimed at embedded devices for ubiquitous computing environments. The gist of the press conference was that Microsoft would become an A level (board) member of the T-Engine Forum, and that it would port its Windows CE .NET operating system to the T-Engine platform as a "guest operating system." This guest operating system will form yet another non-native middleware environment on T-Engine, a "non-native kernel extension" in technical parlance, just like previously announced ones: T-Linux, T-Integrator, T-Java, and T-Wireless. Mr. Susumu Furukawa, who represented Microsoft at the press conference, said that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates considers this a really exciting opportunity, and T-Engine Forum Chairman Ken Sakamura said that the 21st century will be the age of cooperation and not the age of competition.

Had this press conference involved any U.S. technology firm other than Microsoft--Apple Computer Inc., for example--it would have drawn little interest, and reporting and commenting about the affair would have been minimal. But it didn't. It involved the company that was the direct beneficiary of the United States Trade Representative's meddling in the course of the TRON Project way back in 1989. Lots of people haven't forgotten how the U.S. government tried to destroy advanced Japanese technology projects while pretending to "open closed foreign markets" that refused to practice "free and fair trade." And so, like a volcanic eruption, the Internet and Japan's mass media immediately exploded with rumors, conspiracy theories, and warnings of yet another American plot to derail the TRON Project for the benefit of American industry just as it was picking up stream again. Some of the rumors were really off the wall, e.g., that the USTR was sending threats to Prof. Sakamura behind the scenes on Microsoft's behalf, or that Prof. Sakamura had secretly gone to Redmond and/or received stock options from Microsoft!

Of course, not everything written about this affair was without substance. People warning of a Microsoft Trojan horse strategy could easily back up their claim, for example, with the sad story of GO Corporation and its PenPoint operating system. GO tried to cooperate with Microsoft, only to see Microsoft turn into a direct competitor in its field. Microsoft has also been criticized for producing incompatible versions of Java and extended Web standards in an attempt to prevent non-Microsoft standards from gaining traction. As for rumors that this was a clever strategy by Prof. Sakamura to create a Microsoft-TRON joint front against Japanese companies from further embracing embedded Linux, one only has to consider how the Japanese companies embracing embedded Linux have ignored the µBTRON operating system in preference for PDA operating systems developed in the U.S. The µBTRON operating system is better than anything developed to date for PDA use, but Japanese companies avoid it like the plague, since the USTR attacked the BTRON subproject.

So what's going on? Why did Microsoft decide to join the T-Engine Forum? Not being an employee of Microsoft nor having contact with anyone in possession of inside information, I can only speculate, but here are some logical conclusions. First and foremost, Microsoft keeps close track of the TRON Project, since it is a veritable fountain of news ideas. They have seen membership in the T-Engine Forum explode, and they have duly noted that the TRON Project is returning to its roots--the parallel standardization of hardware and software. With almost 250 companies in the T-Engine Forum, it was obvious that a huge amount of middleware was going to be developed on T-Engine platforms, and if Microsoft stayed out, it would miss out on those resources. Moreover, by staying out of the T-Engine Forum, it would have to develop on top of a multitude of proprietary development boards, which would have required more time, greater costs, and more effort. In short, staying out of the T-Engine Forum would have meant becoming marginalized in the embedded field, the field where the greatest growth is expected.

Whatever the case may be, as a member of the T-Engine Forum, I hope that Microsoft will keep in mind three things: (1) the USTR did tremendous damage to the TRON Project, particularly the BTRON subproject, and so many TRON Project insiders, myself included, are very sensitive to its presence; (2) as a T-Engine Forum member, Microsoft is required to understand the meaning and goals of open architecture and open systems, and thus it has to work with the other T-Engine Forum members, not against them; and (3) having been the beneficiary of a totally unwarranted assault on the TRON Project by the USTR, the company should go out of its way to show "good will." On the last point, some people at Microsoft might ask how could we possibly show good will? My answer is to develop software applications for the BTRON operating system. That would show the world that Microsoft and the TRON Project have truly buried the hatchet, and that we can on move on to creating the ubiquitous computing networks of the future. As Prof. Sakamura pointed out, we have entered the age of cooperation.