Special Report:

The Takeda Award 2001

- Leaders of the TRON, GNU, and Linux Projects Jointly Honored -


Steven J. Searle
Web Master, TRON Web

TRON, GNU, and Linux Project Leaders Meet to Split 100 Million Yen

During a program on December 3-4, 2001, in the ANA Hotel located in the Ark Hills complex in Roppongi, Tokyo, the leaders of the TRON, GNU, and Linux projects were jointly awarded a 100 million yen Takeda Foundation Award [1] in the field of "Techno-entrepreneurship for Social/Economic Well Being." Although prior to the event it was reported in Linux circles that each project leader would be receiving 100 million yen, they actually split the 100 million yen award three ways. The Takeda Foundation, in fact, only awards three 100 million yen prizes in three fields each year (click here for more information).

The Takeda Award 2001 program began with the "Takeda Award 2001 Forum" on December 3, which I attended and will describe in detail below. During the day-long forum, there were three sessions in which the winners in each field made a presentation and then answered questions from the floor. The forum session for "Techno-entrepreneurship for Social/Economic Well Being" was scheduled for the second sesssion, which ran from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. First to show up at the awards venue was Prof. Ken Sakamura, University of Tokyo faculty member and TRON Project Leader. He was dressed in typical professorial garb, i.e., dress shirt, tie, dark suit jacket, and non-matching dark slacks. He was followed by Linus Torvalds of the Linux Project, who was dressed in a blue suit with a gray jersey underneath. After the two of them tested out their notebook personal computer connections and presentation materials, they sat down next to each other and started talking.

As the room filled up and the clock got closer and closer to the 1 p.m. starting time, I started wondering whether Richard M. Stallman, founder of the GNU Project, the Free Software Foundation, and the General Public License (GPL), would show. Then just as the clock was striking one, he appeared dressed in what I have heard is typical Richard Stallman style--casual maroon jersey (buttons left unbuttoned), light brown casual pants, and dark brown socks and sandals. His long beard and long hair make him look like an anti-American militia man from the Middle East, and, as I would discover during his presentation, he has something in common with those folks--a high-octane hostility to the U.S. government. In particular, he is extremely hostile to some of the moves that the U.S. government has made in the area of intellectual property at the behest of U.S. industry.

For those who are unfamiliar with Tokyo, it should be pointed out that the U.S. Embassy is right behind the Ark Hills complex. On the day of the Takeda Award ceremony, to protect the U.S. Embassy from terrorist attack, the Japanese government had placed dozens of armed Japanese police in bulletproof vests, some of whom are also wearing military style helmets. However, all of those precautions would fail to save the U.S. government from the blistering attack that Richard Stallman would deliver next door in the ANA Hotel. The irony of it gave me quite a chuckle after the awards ceremony when I headed out and saw the Japanese police officers for a second time.

TRON: The Open Architecture for Computerizing Human Society

Since the award recipients were introduced in alphabetical order, Prof. Sakamura gave the first presentation. Regular visitors to TRON Web already know the TRON Project is a movement to create an "open, real-time, total computer architecture" for computerizing human society in the 21st century, so I won't bother to explain the TRON Architecture here. What should be explained at this point, however, is that although the TRON, GNU, and Linux projects all involve the creation of royalty free software, they are very different in character.

In his presentation, Prof. Sakamura once again explained the goal of the TRON Project, which is to create a hypernetwork of computerized objects called "intelligent objects" that can all communicate with each other and with people, who will communicate with the intelligent objects using a "communication machine." As an examples of what he's got in mind, he described futuristic medicine bottles that can warn of cross effects, and even disposable computers in garbage that communicate with incinerators about toxic wastes. He also talked about the TRON Intelligent House constructed in 1989 that incorporated 1,000 microcomputers into 400 subsystems. It was never commercialized because of the high cost of the wiring.

One thing most people missed in the presentation was that Prof. Sakamura announced a new goal for the ITRON subproject. Those of us who have been involved in the TRON Project from way back know that the original goal of the ITRON subproject was to develop a real-time kernel with a task switching time of 1 µsecond. However, in his presentation at the Takeda Award ceremony, he said that the target is now a sub-µsecond response time, which is vastly faster than a personal computer or workstation. Since ITRON serves as the core of the other subarchitectures of the TRON Architecture, his goal obviously is to create the fastest networks in the world.

During the question and answer period following Prof. Sakamura's presentation, Richard Stallman's hand shot up immediately and he asked the first question. If everywhere and everything is computerized, can't the police spy on us using this system he queried. He also pointed out that he doesn't use a cell-phone for that reason, i.e., people can track your movements. Prof. Sakamura seemed taken back by the question, he admitted that possibility exists, but it is a policy problem. People have to decide security matters, and people who live in intelligent houses should have the option of turning off the networked devices there. He also pointed out that he has developed the eTRON [entity TRON] subarchitecture to ensure security.

That answer did not convince Richard Stallman, so let me explain why the Japanese are not afraid of the TRON Architecture. First and foremost, the Japanese people enjoy a greater right to privacy than Americans do, U.S. government claims of American society being the envy of the world notwithstanding. For example, in Japan there is still no equivalent of the Social Security Number that Americans are branded with at a young age. The news media also tend to respect the privacy of individuals more, including withholding the identities of convicted juvenile killers. There is, of course, no equivalent to the U.S.'s giant National Security Agency prying into everyone's communications, and at one time it was possible to rent a prepaid cell-phone without producing identification. That ended when Japanese criminals started taking advantage of them, and now one has to provide identification when renting one.

In short, Japanese society is not afraid of TRON, because its government has considerably more social constraints operating against it than the U.S. government has. For that reason, computer designers such as Prof. Sakamura have considerably more options when designing computer networks for the 21st century. It's too bad that computer designers in the U.S. can't operate in a similar environment when designing networks in that country, because it will ultimately undermine their ability to compete in world markets.

GNU: Give Me Free Software or Give Me Death

Richard Stallman, I was told in an e-mail by a computer hacking friend in the U.S. prior to the award ceremony, is a "politician." After listening to his presentation at the Takeda Award ceremony, I came away with the feeling that he is a "revolutionary," or, to satisfy my friend, a "revolutionary politician." I can also see why he strikes fear at the highest levels of Microsoft Corporation. He is very charismatic--a herd of photographers were nearly tripping over each other to take pictures of him once he took the podium--which enables him to mobilize battalions of people to work on free software projects. Moreover, the GPL licensing scheme he thought up leads to the exact opposite of Microsoft's famed monopolization strategy. Instead of embrace, extend, and proprietize into a monopoly product, the GPL makes free, extends, and makes the extended results free also.

So how did Richard Stallman end up in the business of creating free software? What led him to devise this unique software license that threatens to do to Microsoft what a wooden stake through the heart does to Count Dracula? Well, once upon a time, Richard Stallman was an unknown hacker at Massachusetts Institute of Technology anonymously writing operating system source code, which he shared with his friends. This was his way of life, and he probably would still be doing this in relative obscurity today if the owner of the operating system he was using hadn't decided to exercise its intellectual property rights and demand the signing of a non-disclosure agreement just to get the binaries [3]. This fateful decision led to end of the Stallman's community of hackers, but unlike other members he chose not to see this as the understandable workings of capitalism. Rather, he saw it as a "political issue," and that made him determined to build a new community where people could cooperate in the development of free software.

The rest, as the say, is history. As anyone conversant in computer technology knows, he first set out to develop a basic platform for this new cooperative world, i.e., an operating system, and he modeled it on UNIX, since it is highly portable. In order to underline the fact that this new operating system is not proprietary, he called it GNU, which stands for "GNU's Not Unix." Because there were already lots of UNIX savvy programmers in universities throughout the world, he got an enormous amount of help in developing this new free operating system along with utilities and applications (click here for a list). These results, by the way, were originally sold for a small fee via the Free Software Foundation, a tax-exempt charity he set up to promote free software. And therein lies the meaning of "Free" in Stallman's world. Free does not necessarily mean "free of charge," but rather the "freedom to do with what you like," which, of course includes the freedom to sell. He summarized the software freedoms one needs as follows:

(1) Freedom to run it
(2) Freedom to study what it does
(3) Freedom to change what it does to do what you want
(4) Freedom to redistribute copies
(5) Freedom to publish improved versions

What was most startling in his description of "software freedom" was that he linked it to the "spirit of good will," which he said is society's "most important resource." To hear a person from stock market crazed America put the word "will," rather than "return on investment," after the word "good" was something totally unexpected. It was like a voice from another age, or at least another dimension, where cooperation among people is held in higher regard than individual greed. But apparently lots of people agree with him. When he started his GNU Project back in the mid 1980s, just around the time the TRON Project was officially launched, most people didn't believe he could create a completely free operating system. Eventually, he and many others did. The last piece of this free operating system was the Linux kernel developed and popularized by Linus Torvalds. The result is the GNU/Linux operating system, which is usually simplified to Linux for short, although Torvalds' kernel is just a small part of the overall operating system.

But there were many other surprises from Richard Stallman during his presentation. One was his strong denunciation of the U.S. government for passing into law the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) [4] and allowing software patents to be granted [5]. He said the DMCA is designed to keep the public helpless, and that other nations should reject this. He noted that DMCA had been used to arrest a Russian programmer at the request of an American firm while in the U.S., and he stated that this is an indication that the U.S. government wants to impose its will on the rest of the world. As to software patents, he pointed out that these allow programmers to be sued merely for the ideas they incorporate in their software, but software development, like any other form of technological development, relies on concepts that were developed in the past. "The government has to decide to allow us to serve society," he said.

In spite of the threat of a business-friendly U.S. government wielding overly broad copyright protection legislation against him and his movement, Richard Stallman is not cowed. In fact, he has already expanded his free software activities from an operating system, utilities, and applications to content software. One such project is "Wikipedia," a free software encyclopedia that he originally thought would take 10 to 20 years to complete [6], but actually the project has attracted thousands of volunteers and hence is moving along faster than expected. He also has a series of free software dictionary projects under way. These include Spanish, various languages of India, and Waloon (a language of Belgium). He said he also hopes to see a free English dictionary, a free Japanese dictionary, and even free textbooks at some time in the future. All of these projects are covered by the GNU Free Document License, a copyleft license, and thus they can all be modified and redistributed in modified form to others.

During the question and answer period following his presentation, Richard Stallman answered two questions. The first question was again on the dangers of connecting computerized appliances to a network. He said the answer is to not connect appliances to a network. He also lashed out at the U.S. government saying he "felt the presence of an occupying army, the U.S. Army." He was angry that he had to produce identification--apparently to American soldiers--in going from Boston to New York. He also warned that the U.S. government has plans to triangulate cell-phone transmissions and create a database of them, which is why he doesn't use a cell-phone. The second question was on software patents from a person who thought they might be valuable in protecting small software companies from the well known predatory business practices of large software companies. Richard Stallman said he had heard that argument before, but it is a myth that software patents protect small companies from large companies.

Specifically, he noted that software patents "force" small companies to "cross license" their technology to large companies, and thus they serve the interests of the large software companies, not the small software companies. He said that in developing software you need to use many ideas, which becomes impossible if ideas can be patented and thus serve as the basis for a lawsuit. Software, he pointed out, is like symphonic music in which you need to use many musical ideas to write a new composition. In that regard, if European countries in the past had allowed "musical idea patents," it would have changed the course of classical music, since composers such as Beethoven combined old and new ideas in their symphonies. In order to avoid lawsuits originating from software patents, Stallman said, one would have to completely reinvent computer science, but there is no who is no one who is so intelligent, and even if such a person existed, other people probably couldn't understand what that person had developed.

Linux: An Open Source OS of the Masses, by the Masses, for the Masses

Linus Torvalds is a quite a contrast to Richard Stallman. I had read here and there on the Web that he is a real gentleman--a humble guy who signs in like everyone else at computer events where he is the star attraction. Well, he lived up to that reputation at the Takeda Award ceremony, and he also added a few more saintly qualities to it. For example, he refused to answer questions about Microsoft during the question and answer period, since he has a personal policy of not wanting to appear like an anti-Microsoft crusader. He also said he hates giving presentations, and he began his presentation by sincerely offering his thanks to others, in particular the thousands of programmers who regularly contribute their time and effort to building up the corpus of Linux open source code. To give an idea of how much thanks these programmers deserve, he noted that the first version of Linux amounted to only 10,000 lines of code; now there are 30 million lines of code.

Linus Torvalds' presentation was on the open source development process and how it resembles the biological processes that underlie the process of evolution, in particular the processes that allow something to carve out a niche and survive. According to Torvalds, the basics of evolution are: mutation, cross pollination (combination), competition and selection, and massively parallel development. The Linux open source development movement, which he describes as "distributed [software] development," can leverage all the parts of evolution, he said. It thrives on mutation, demands recombination, allows parallelism, and encourages competition. He emphasized the last point, i.e., that the Linux open source development movement encourages competition [7], and he pointed out he was surprised to discover that although the U.S. is a land of people who glorify competition, all sorts of anti-competitive measures have been put into place to prevent competition.

Why would a country that glorifies competition come to have measures that stifle competition in the software industry? Torvalds explained. First, software is a very expensive thing to develop; and, second, it couldn't exist without incremental improvements. Accordingly, established software companies do not like competition, since it increases their costs and reduces their profits. Once a particular software company becomes dominant in a niche, it is almost impossible to dislodge, he pointed out. Interestingly, he said that Linux doesn't have a single niche, although he acknowledged that the operating system it is modeled on, UNIX, has been aimed at the server niche. Torvalds also took the time to list the downsides of open source development. It results in duplication, which leads to wasted effort; and although it fosters competition, it can lead to outright war, which is not good. Moreover, communicating with volunteer software developers all over the world is very difficult.

In the conclusion to his presentation, Torvalds brought up a topic close to the heart of Bill Joy at Sun Microsystems Inc., who has written a book warning of the threat that advanced technologies pose to the human race. He said that computing and software are getting more and more complex, and that this complexity is inherently difficult to control. Then, he asked the audience the ultimate question--what happens when software becomes more complex than the organization generating it, i.e., the human race? He said open source and the evolutionary development method are the best way to move forward, but the question is, "do we really want to go there?" "I don't know," he said in answer to his own question.

The question and answer session following Linus Torvalds' presentation began on a feisty note. A Japanese member of the FreeBSD movement said that in the FreeBSD Project people work in teams, but in the Linux movement all source code has to go to Torvalds to be approved, so what happens if you get sick? Torvalds replied that in the Linux movement he is supposed to be in ultimate control, but he views himself as acting as a provisional control system with "taste," and that he considers himself a "management tool." In fact, he pointed out that there are separate development trees in the Linux, and that each of them has a person in charge. Moreover, he stated flatly that he will not be a source code control in the future, and that the system will not work well forever. Most interestingly, he noted that he has no special permissions under the copyright, and that his version of the source code is "official" merely because people trust him.

Richard Stallman couldn't let this subject matter pass without telling the audience there is a difference between his free software movement and Linus Torvalds' open source movement--free software is about ethics, he emphasized, but open source is only about reaping the benefits of evolutionary development. The two movements are different, but cooperate, he said. He also stated for the record--once again, according to what I have heard--that the operating system has been under development since 1984, and then he launched into an explanation about why Linux should be called GNU/Linux. Torvalds countered that he believes Stallman respects him, although he refers to him as an "engineer." He also said the prize winners are all opinionated. There was also a question about Microsoft, which Torvalds decline to answer. Stallman dismissed the company as a maker of toy operating systems when it started, and he said at present it is doing the same bad things as others, i.e., dividing and keeping others helpless. Both he and Torvalds agreed that Microsoft is irrelevant to the free software and open source movements [8].

Perhaps the most interesting comment was at the end of the question and answer session from a foreign businessman who stood up and said that businesses truly appreciate what the GNU and Linux projects are doing, and he encouraged them to carry on, since there is a need for free software in business also. Now that businesses in the U.S. and elsewhere are trying to cut costs to keep their heads above water in a receding economy, it might be time for them to take another look what their Management Information System departments are doing and decide whether buying Microsoft's expensive operating systems and office suites is really the best policy for their companies.


[1] The Takeda Award is newly established award that beginning in 2001 will annually present three 100 million yen prizes in each of three fields: Social/Economic Well-Being, Individual/Humanity Well-Being, and World Environmental Well-Being. It is very interesting that the Takeda Foundation chose "open development models for system software" for its first Social/Economic Well-Being award. Computer software is a field that is not covered by the Nobel Prize.

[2] The results of the TRON Project are not covered by the GPL, as are the GNU and Linux projects. That makes the TRON Project similar to the FreeBSD movement, which also allows people to make changes and create a proprietary product.

[3] Although he didn't mention it by name, he seemed to be using the UNIX operating system that was created at American Telephone and Telegraph Co.'s Bell Labs in 1969. Since AT&T was originally a public telephone monopoly, it was not allowed to compete in the computer field. For that reason, it gave away free of charge copies of its operating system to universities, who in turn helped to develop it further. However, after the U.S. government decided to break up AT&T and deregulate the telephone industry in the U.S. in the 1980s, AT&T was finally allowed to compete in the computer field, and hence it decided to exercise its intellectual property rights in regard to UNIX. This also seems to be why the name of his project, GNU, stands for "GNU's not UNIX."

[4] DMCA, passed in 1998 by the U.S. Congress, has been widely criticized as legislation that puts the rights of copyright holding businesses ahead of the rights of consumers, who under traditional copyright law have the right of "fair use" to make unauthorized copies and the right to resell legally purchased copyrighted materials. Moreover, many hold that it violates the free speech provisions of the U.S. Constitution, since it stipulates: "No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof . . . " in regard to copyright protection systems. They give as evidence the fact that this clause has been used as the basis to arrest at a security convention in Las Vegas a Russian cryptographer, Dmitry Sklyarov, for allegedly writing in his country--where it is not a crime--software that cracked Adobe Corp.'s simplistic eBook copyright protection system. For further information about why many people oppose the DMCA, click here. (Note: there is also a section about how DMCA conflicts with the GPL that ensures freedom in the GNU and Linux projects; click here.)

[5] The U.S. government's Patent and Trademark Office originally refused to grant patents for software. Software algorithms, for example, can now be patented, but at one time they were considered to be basic scientific discoveries similar to Einstein's famous E=mc2 equation, and hence outside the bounds of patent law. However, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling forced them to grant one in 1981. From that decision on, the concept of software patents gradually expanded until we arrived at the infamous "Amazon 1-Click Patent" of Amazon.Com for Internet sales, which has been described by one respected American source, i.e., Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly & Associates Inc., as "one more example of an 'intellectual property' milieu gone mad." For an in-depth look at this issue, click here. There is also an interesting article on overlapping computer technology patents posted at Web site of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (click here).

[6] This is one of the beauties of doing free software--you have the luxury of thinking 10 or 20 years into the future! When this type of thinking is applied to basic software design, it ensures the underlying software models will be better thought out than those incorporated into software developed in accordance with "market forces." Prof. Sakamura also engages in this type of thinking, since he intends the TRON Architecture to last well beyond his death.

[7] As a project developing an "open architecture," the TRON Project also encourages competition. However, since it was developed in Japan, it was initially described in the late 1980s as a potential "non-tariff trade barrier" by the U.S. government. In fact, it is the "level playing field" par excellence that the U.S. politicians were clamoring for at the time. The only thing that has changed between the late 1980s and today is that the U.S. now has its own full-blown open systems movement spreading through its computer industry, the GNU/Linux movement, and not surprisingly the same industry forces that opposed the TRON Project and tried to derail it are trying to figure out ways to destroy the GNU/Linux movement. There is also a lesser movement, FreeBSD, the technology of which Apple Computer Inc. has taken advantage of in the creation of its news operating system, Mac OS X.

[8] People participating in the GNU and Linux projects should keep in mind that although what Microsoft is doing technologically may be irrelevant to what they are doing, the company is still very capable of manipulating political and/or legal forces to defend itself and its interests, and, as a result, create roadblocks toward the adoption of the GNU/Linux operating system in the U.S. Keep that in mind as you proceed.


My Japanese colleague and Japan's only professional BTRON writer, Mr. Misaki Kaoru, took digital pictures at the award ceremony, which can be viewed at the following link. The text unfortunately is in Japanese.