TRON Project Leader's Opinion

Ken Sakamura

Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, The University of Tokyo

This issue of TRONWARE is an introductory special feature centering on BTRON and Cho Kanji after a long time. The BTRON project began in the middle of the 1980s aiming at an operating system standard for personal computers in Japan, but there were all sorts of twists and turns, and thus it is for about the last three years, since 1999, that it has come about that we have been able to offer BTRON for practical use as a multi-kanji operating system that can handle more than 100,000 characters. Although there are all sorts of operating systems with a graphical user interface (GUI), since they were born in the U.S., their commercialization centers in the U.S., and when it comes to those made in other countries, at best they are on the level of those seen in Britain, and commercial operating systems with a GUI made completely from zero in other countries are rare. There are also many operating systems made for experimental and research purposes worldwide, but there are few practical operating systems that can endure use by large numbers of people. BTRON has been tried by more than 200,000 people in the last three years. This is very small when compared to operating systems like MS Windows, which are in a state of oligopoly, but if we talk about it from the viewpoint of someone fighting with a handicap, we get the impression that's somehow a lot.

BTRON in fact possesses a simple user interface. To people using a personal computer for the first time, it's easily understood, but when someone uses BTRON after using MS Windows, it's a little perplexing. Although BTRON is an operating system with the same kind of GUI, the basic idea is completely different. Recently, even MS Windows has come not to use icons, but BTRON has had no icons from the start. Because we were conscious at the beginning of environments with few resources similar to what we call mobile and wearable today, we thought user interface scalability would disappear, i.e., things would be difficult on small displays, and thus we built a model in which icons were not adopted. (Although MS Windows and Macintosh are very similar, there are fine differences in ease of use, and thus Macintosh is much easier to use.)

In addition, the file system model is not a tree structure, but rather the real-object, virtual object model that supports hyperlinks, and thus it is completely different from other methods. Once you get used to it, this type of thing is easy to use. Furthermore, it is not "application and data," but rather it is made up in the proper object-oriented way of thinking in which "the data know the method of operation." In other words, it is made up so that the functions are specified after the data has been selected. In other operating systems from the age of MS-DOS, there is often the noun after the verb, the "how to do" "what," method. Even the starting of the application from the icon is to the last a shortcut, and thus it cannot be called true object oriented. Data are read in after the application is started up. With a method like BTRON in which the operation is specified after the data are specified, we can write text and draw pictures by just changing the operation specified with the same data. This is tough in MS Windows and Macintosh. Although it's possible inside a single application, the only operating system that can handle this system wide at the operating system level is BTRON. (In computer science terms, this is orthodox; it continues the lineage of systems that one could call the object-oriented ancestors, such as Smalltalk and Interlisp.) The more one knows about it, the better it should be, but . . .

While ITRON, the operating system nucleus, as a multitask, real-time OS, adopts a conservative architecture aimed at none other than high reliability and stable operation, BTRON is something that challenges a new architecture, something I thought up after hard thinking, and thus it has taken time to get people to understand it. Today, TRON has been reconsidered, and it has become the the de facto standard in cell-phones and for automotive use, and it still has not been abandoned for personal computer use. It would be good fortune now if I could get you to reexamine it once and try this unique operating system based on a way of thinking that is new even to this day.

The above opinion piece by TRON Project Leader Ken Sakamura appeared on page 1 of Vol. 74 of TRONWARE. It was translated and loaded onto this page with the permission of Personal Media Corporation.

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Copyright © 2002 Sakamura Laboratory, University Museum, University of Tokyo