TRON Project Leader's Opinion

Ken Sakamura

The University Museum, The University of Tokyo

Although people have talked about it previously, we are now at a point where the end of the personal computer is gradually coming to be discussed in earnest. What is being widely distributed at present are personal computers that use Microsoft Corporation's Windows as an OS, of which several tens of millions of units are being shipped each year. There are few people who truly believe that this is the best and easiest to use. There are lots of voices saying it is difficult to use. It's not a matter of who, but rather various people are voicing their dissatisfaction. If one asks why is a thing that is difficult to use being used, it is because there are historical reasons for this. A computer runs centered around functions. In other words, there is a purpose for which it is necessary to use a computer, and it is there in order to process that. From the past with its mainframes, the fact is that an easy-to-use computer would not become the best seller. Hasn't it been in the last several years that the ease-of-use factor has come to be stressed as a result of computers coming to be used by ordinary people who aren't technical specialists as the purposes for which we use computers for have greatly expanded in society?

Recently, not just in Japan but also in America a lot of studies and predictions have appeared that the personal computers of today are soon to end, and that we will be moving to the next generation. In June [1998], the research firm International Data Corporation drew a lot of attention with its report "The End of the PC-centric Era," in which it predicted that as for devices that access the Internet, shipments of so-called digital appliances that aren't PCs will approach the shipment amount of personal computers in 2002, and that they will surpass them in 2004 or 2005. In July [1998], another research firm, Forrester Research, also announced the prediction that PC shipments will peak in 2002, and that Internet home appliances will go on growing. In September [1998], the British economic magazine The Economist ran an article titled "After the PC." What they are all saying is not new; it has just come closer to reality. As for the sense of this direction, it will never come to pass that a personal computer will be incorporated into everything. It is difficult to conceive to the extent that a joke has appeared that says, "if a personal computer is incorporated into a television, it will take several minutes for it to start up."

One reason that computers are difficult to understand lies in the fact that "they can do anything." Thus for ease of use for the ordinary person who is not a technical expert we go in the direction of singular functionality determined for a purpose for which they wish to employ one. However, since that alone will not surpass the personal computer, we think along the lines of singular function-oriented devices linked via a network so that various things can happen in a coordinated manner. If we tell this to someone who knows about TRON, we get asked if that isn't the Highly Functionally Distributed System (HFDS)--the times are heading in that direction. I am often told this by people who have been involved in the TRON Project from way back, but people have come to talk about things that are very similar to what TRON has been talking about from the past. I am often asked "isn't Sun [Microsystems Inc.]'s Jini TRON"? And then even IBM [Corporation] has recently been proposing Pervasive Computing in which handheld terminals and home appliances are linked with a network. The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex and Information Appliances Are the Solution, a recently written work by cognitive psychologist and former Apple Fellow Donald Norman, has often appeared in book reviews in America; this also paints a future in which singular function devices are linked together via networks.

The saying that "the ultimate computer is invisible to the eye" is from the start something that is familiar to the ear in Japan. There are voices in various places saying this is like TRON, and that is like TRON. The TRON Project has painted a very grand view of the future of computers; as to how it's going, I strongly believe that we have almost succeeded at the level of conceptual design. That TRON also moves onward greeting new developments, beginning with the ITRON [developments] in the special feature in this issue of TRONWARE. I have said many times that something will not necessarily spread widely in the world just because its functions are high or its concept is good. An approach in which we move the project forward by possessing one vision and exhibiting a sense of direction is important. This type of method had a difficult time coming forth from Japan. However, our TRON Project is exactly this. In the future also, with pride and confidence, I would like to press forward with the project.

The above opinion piece by TRON Project Leader Ken Sakamura appeared on page 1 of Vol. 54 of TRONWARE. It was translated and loaded onto this page with the permission of Personal Media Corporation.

Copyright © 1998 Personal Media Corporation

Copyright © 1998 Sakamura Laboratory, University Museum, University of Tokyo