TRON News Items for June 2004

TRON Project Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary

On June 2, at the Hotel Laforet Tokyo, the TRON Project celebrated the 20th anniversary of its official launch inside the Japan Electronic Industry Development Association. And there was a lot to celebrate. Not only did the TRON Project survive foreign political interference aimed at derailing it in its earliest stage and subsequent lackluster support from Japanese industry, but it actually managed to resurrect itself in recent years in the form of the T-Engine project to become the most important movement in the world of real-time embedded systems. As of June 1, the T-Engine Forum, which began at the end of June 2002 with 22 corporate members, had 380 corporate members and organizations, both foreign and domestic, and membership continues to climb. In short, the TRON Project has finally become what it was originally meant to be--an open, royalty free technology development project with worldwide support that would become the focus for developing ubiquitous computing technologies for computerizing human society in the 21st century.

At a morning press conference, Prof. Ken Sakamura, the TRON Project leader, traced the roots of the project, which date back to the appearance of the microprocessor. He said he believed these tiny computers on a chip would eventually come to be used in everything, and thus he proposed the Highly Functional Distributed System, which he now refers to as the "ubiquitous network." (Take a look at the chart below for TRON terminology changes.) Since this type of computing would involve large numbers of embedded computers simultaneously communicating with each other and responding to real world events, he reasoned that an architecture to realize this dream would have to be based on a real-time kernel with a small footprint, and thus the name of the project was born--The Real-time Operating system Nucleus Project. Another requirement was ease-of-use, and thus he proposed aids for the handicapped and multilingual processing. All of these elements are included in the T-Engine Architecture, which is the latest metamorphosis of the TRON Architecture.

TRON Terminology Changes



Computers everywhere, computing everywhere

Ubiquitous computing
The old term appeared in the early 1980s in Japan, but it was changed to the new term, which first appeared in an article in Scientific American written by Mark Weiser in 1991.
Highly Functional Distributed System (HFDS; also, Highly Functionally Distributed System)

Ubiquitous network
Hence Prof. Sakamura's new laboratory is called the "YRP Ubiquitous Networking Laboratory."
TRON Project

T-Engine project
The TRON Project still exists, but its main focus is now the T-Engine and Ubiquitous ID projects, so it is going to become used less and less.
ITRON (also, µITRON)

ITRON and µITRON still exist in a separate project and are available for free under a separate license, but µITRON-based T-Kernel is the software platform that will become the main component in ubiquitous networks.

T-Kernel Standard Extension
BTRON is available commercially on the IBM-PC/AT-compatible platform as Cho Kanji 4, but its future lies in its use on top of T-Kernel, where it serves as a type of "middleware" that is available commercially as "PMC T-Shell." It supplies character processing functions in the Ubiquitous Communicator.
Communication machine

Ubiquitous Communicator
The old term was used to define the role of BTRON in the HFDS, and it has now been changed to the latter. Two experimental versions of the "UC" have already been developed and are in testing.

Ubiquitous networking protocols
MTRON was intended as a network OS capable of context awareness that would be used for controlling the HFDS. This is now being realized in the form ubiquitous networking protocols that are currently under development at YRP UNL.

Although not originally part of early MTRON proposals, "Entity TRON," was later developed to ensure secure transactions and privacy in ubiquitous networks.
TRON Architecture (also, TRON total architecture)

T-Engine Architecture
The original TRON Architecture has metamorphosed into the T-Engine Architecture.

There is a trend lately to describe all the "native portions" of the TRON and/or T-Engine software architectures collectively using the term "TRON OS."

Prof. Sakamura said one of the unique things about the TRON Project is that it began not just with concepts for developing new technologies, but also with a philosophy. From the very beginning, TRON has been open and royalty free. He estimates the total value of royalties TRON never received on the order of 10 trillion yen (approximately $91 billion), which is based on 1,000 yen per copy of ITRON shipped in embedded systems to date. But certain early concepts in the project have changed, the most noteworthy of these being the concept of weak/loose standardization, which was abandoned because it hindered the creation of powerful development environments and prevented the easy porting of middleware from one processor to another. Also, T-Kernel source code, the operating system of T-Engine, is only available to T-Engine Forum members on the basis of T-License. It's all right to modify it, but you have to let the T-Engine Forum know what you are doing so that compatibility, and hence software portability, can be maintained.

Another aspect of the TRON Architecture that is unique and important to the realization of ubiquitous computing is "context awareness." Context awareness is a technical term that means that networked computers are able to tell where in physical space things and people are, which is not to mention the size, shape, and present state of the physical space itself. In other words, context awareness is in complete contrast to today's Internet, which is a virtual reality world where it doesn't matter if the node you are connected to is in the next room or on the other side of the world. In order to realize context awareness, Prof. Sakamura said that he and his staff are currently developing "ubiquitous networking protocols." Previously, in the TRON Project, this type of technology fell under the Macro TRON, or MTRON subarchitecture. The Entity TRON, or eTRON, security architecture that has already been developed is another portion of MTRON that has finally been realized, and hardware and servers based on it are currently in existence.

During the question and answer period with reporters, Prof. Sakamura was asked about parallel IC tag efforts under way in the U.S. He said that in the U.S., Department of Defense standards are the most important, and he pointed out that EPCglobal's RFID efforts are aimed at reducing "shrinkage," which is another way of saying the "loss or pilfering" of goods as they pass through the supply chain. Hence the U.S. is using a wavelength for its RFIDs that can be read from greater distances. However, the U.S. has yet to develop anything like the T-Engine project's Ubiquitous Communicator. That is probably one reason why Prof. Sakamura is doing technical advising at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Such unique technologies, interestingly, also motivate foreign students to desire to study at the University of Tokyo, since they think that TRON is great technology. In fact, special courses are being created at universities overseas to teach computer science students about technologies developed in the TRON Project.

In order to train technical personnel for the age of ubiquitous computing, Prof. Sakamura said that a T-Engine textbook is currently being drawn up. This will later be made available via the Internet for free. The goal in Japan is to train 1,000 T-Engine specialists per year, but Prof. Sakamura said the people he talked to in China believe they can train 10 times that number of specialists annually. If that assumption becomes fact, China may very well become the world center of the TRON technology development in the future. However, embedded systems are becoming more complex as the years go by. Prof. Sakamura pointed out that cell-phones now incorporate software with one million steps, which is incredible compared to the past. That's why he is always advocating software that will last 100 years, and that's also why you have to have an open, royalty free development platform that doesn't change. In order to enable the smooth flow of middleware from one developer to another, the T-Dist system, which uses eTRON security, has also been developed.

A couple of hours after the press conference, there was a special ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the TRON Project's founding, which was attended by 300 to 400 people. The program began with a special lecture by the TRON Project Leader, Prof. Ken Sakamura, who wasn't too impressed with the number 20. In fact, he said that important technology takes 30 to 40 years to create, since it takes a long time to create the software. That doesn't mean the TRON Project is struggling to establish itself, though. The TRON OS is the leading operating system in the world of embedded systems, and thus it is in just about any device that people touch these days, including cell-phones, digital cameras, and automobiles. One reason for this is that it is a royalty free operating system, and another is that it uses a priority-based operating system model, which makes it faster at responding to tasks than operating systems such as Linux and MS Windows. This model was the result of philosophical considerations, which correctly assumed that MPUs would be in everything.

Prof. Sakamura, of course, has had to go through a lot to get the TRON Project where it is today. This is because there are a lot of Japanese "experts" with a negative attitude who mistakenly believe that only Americans can create standards, and thus a Japanese like Prof. Sakamura is a technological Don Quixote jousting with windmills. Prof. Sakamura said he received a lot of insults from people with a bad attitude in the beginning, but like any successful inventor, he just ignored those negative voices and pressed forward with what he knew was the correct path to the future. Now that the Linux movement has taken off, he no longer has to explain why society's computer network infrastructure has to be open. And since we live in an age of networks that are constantly becoming jammed, why society's open networks have to be real-time networks is something that even the least technically savvy people can understand. Prof. Sakamura is well aware of his position in history, he said chances to do what he has been doing do not come along very often.

The focus of the TRON Project is now on the porting of middleware and the development of networks. Prof. Sakamura said that T-Kernel, which underlies these, is meant to last for 100 years. But this is not an exclusionary project, and T-Kernel is available free of charge via the T-License agreement. To date, Linux, Windows CE .NET, Java, and other software developed in Europe and the U.S. have been ported to the T-Engine Architecture, so no one will is being left out as the new networks are being created. In fact, it is because the T-Engine project is so open that development centers have been established in China, Korea, and Singapore, and others are scheduled to be established in Malaysia and Thailand. Although the U.S. government tried to derail the TRON Project, Prof. Sakamura ended his special presentation by praising American creativity, which he believes Japan must learn. He also thanked the audience, which included many TRON Project pioneers, for 20 years of assistance in making the project the success it has become.

After Prof. Sakamura's special lecture, a group of those TRON Project pioneers mostly from Japanese industry gathered on the stage and gave their thoughts about the TRON Project on its 20th birthday. The first of those was Mr. Takuma Yamamoto, a former chairman of Fujitsu Ltd. and a former chairman of the TRON Association. Mr. Yamamoto, who recently appeared in a television program that dealt with the TRON Project, rattled off the TRON Project's accomplishments, and he expressed his delight that the T-Engine project has been a great success. After Mr. Yamamoto's presentation, TRON pioneers who participated in the TRON VLSI CPU project took the stage and gave their views on the fruits of the TRON Project. Although the TRON VLSI CPU-specification-based 32-bit microprocessors were not a commercial success, they agreed that this subproject actually helped Japan become a force in the world of microprocessors. Prof. Sakamura, as unbeaten as always, said he would like to take a stab at designing an MPU.

Next up were the CTRON developers, including Mr. Tetsuo Wasano, who worked at NTT Network Development Center at the time of the USTR's attack on the TRON Project. He said NTT made a big investment in TRON just like the chip makers, and that he came under political pressure to drop CTRON development. However, he explained to the USTR's representatives that CTRON was open, and that it was aimed at improving software productivity, which was very low at the time due to ports to various proprietary systems. That problem was alleviated by asked equipment vendors to supply their products with a Basic CTRON operating system. Mr. Masayoshi Matsushita of Oki Electric Industry Co. Ltd., who also worked on the CTRON subproject, said the project had a long fight and survived. He went to China, which eventually set up a TRON Association of its own in Shanghai to introduce CTRON technology into the country, with Prof. Sakamura, and he said he learned that you have to continue your efforts for a long time and fight to succeed.

The biggest success of the TRON Project was the ITRON subproject, and that subproject had a lot of technical committee chairmen. Mr. Hiroshi Monden of NEC Electronics Corp., 20 years after the fact, expressed his amazement at how much Prof. Sakamura wanted to do from the very beginning. Mr. Hiroshi Takeyama of Hitachi Ltd. talked about the camaraderie that developed among the committee members. He said he began thinking of the TRON kyookai [TRON Association] as his TRON kyoodai [TRON brothers]. Mr. Kiichiro Tamaru, formerly of Toshiba Corp. and the fourth ITRON Technical Committee chairman, said that ITRON was good technology, but making friends and teaming up with partners were also important. He also expressed his surprise at how fast T-Engine and T-Kernel were becoming standards. But there should be no surprise there. These are based on 20 years of experience in creating open standards for real-time processing, so there is no credibility problem with adopting TRON-based systems today. It's the logical thing to use.

The last group of speakers were pioneers who participated in TRON-based human-machine interface (HMI) development. Mr. Takuro Sone of Yamaha Corp. talked about how his firm used TRON HMI guidelines to build a karaoke system for nationwide use, which still has the number one market share in Japan. Mr. Ryu Koriyama of Aplix Corporation, a former Microsoft Corp. employee who developed a very successful business after creating Java on ITRON specification with Prof. Sakamura in 1997, lauded Prof. Sakamura's sharp mind, and he told the audience that the project leader has incredible staying power. He said Prof. Sakamura told him you can win with the right technology, and that turned out to be true with Aplix's JBlend, of which there are over 50 million copies on cell-phones. The last speaker was Mr. Tatsuya Izumina of Personal Media Corp., which markets the BTRON-based Cho Kanji operating system. Mr. Izumina said the company has ported the operating system to T-Kernel, and it plans to continue its development.

The day's program ended with Prof. Sakamura thanking all those who helped the TRON Project over the 20 years of its existence. Yes, a lot of nameless people have helped the TRON Project to get where it is today, and TRON Web would also like to express its appreciation to them for their valiant efforts. Projects of this magnitude require lots of cooperation and good will, which is not to mention extraordinary will power. Thank you for what you have done in the past, and please help us to take TRON to a higher level in the future.

Personal Media Markets Special Software Pack to Mark TRON Project 20th Anniversary

Personal Media Corporation announced on June 1 that it would begin shipping on June 2 a TRON Project 20th anniversary special commemorative software pack consisting of the firm's Cho Kanji 4 operating system and bundled applications plus its Cho Kanji uebu konba-ta [Cho Kanji Web converter] Web page building application for 31,500 yen (tax included). Called Cho Kanji uebu konba-ta pakku (Cho Kanji Web converter pack], the special commemorative software pack allows purchasers to save to 5,250 yen compared to when purchasing these two software packages separately. The Cho Kanji 4 operating system has a character set of over 170,000 characters, which mainly consists of the Chinese characters used in China, Japan, and Korea. This makes it ideal for creating East Asian multilingual data. Since the Cho Kanji 4 operating system has the same file system as the World Wide Web, i.e., hypertext, Personal Media created Cho Kanji Web converter, which changes Cho Kanji 4 text and graphics pages into HTML-based Web pages at the touch of a button. Therefore, it is not necessary to learn HTML programming to create Web pages in the world of the BTRON3-specification-based Cho Kanji. This special commemorative software pack will be on sale until August 31, 2004.