TRON Comes Out of the Tunnel

Steven J. Searle

Web Master, TRON Web

Many visitors who come to TRON Web may have wondered why there is a black tunnel on the first page of this Web site. Actually, it is based on the famous Yasunari Kawabata novel Snow Country in which the main character comes out of a long train tunnel at the border between two regions of Japan and suddenly finds himself in "snow country," that is, present day Niigata Prefecture on the Japan Sea side of Honshu where there is enormous snowfall in the winter. In the novel, this character, a rich Tokyoite enamored with Western culture named Mr. Shimamura, says, "kokkyoo-no nagai toneeru-wo nukeru-to yukiguni deatta, which literally translates as: "When the train came out of a long tunnel at the border, it was snow country." His journey through a long dark tunnel that suddenly opens into a wondrous world of white where things Japanese are more important than things international reminds me of the long, arduous journey that the TRON Project has taken since its inception, and thus I made it the theme of my opening page.

For those of you who haven't been reading TRON Web for long, when I began TRON Web in 1997, the TRON Project was on the ropes. Lots of people, including many self-styled experts, were sure it was a failure. But, like many other people who have worked on the project since its early years, I was sure that the TRON Project would eventually succeed. That's why I added a short message that streams right to left in the message bar at the bottom of the viewer's browser: "The project came out of a long and difficult period, and suddenly we were in the Age of TRON." I was sure that those of us who have worked to make the TRON Project a success would eventually one day suddenly realize that we're in "the Age of TRON." For me, that day came on May 22, when it was reported in the Nihon Kogyo Shimbun that Toyota Motor Corporation had decided to create a "21st Century Dream House" in Aichi Prefecture using the TRON-based technologies. Yet another key application project of the TRON Project had been revived!

When the TRON Project officially began in 1984, the goal was to create an open, royalty free, real-time computer architecture for computerizing human society. Basic technology projects were begun in tandem with application projects, and a TRON Intelligent House was actually built, put on display, and used as a test bed in Tokyo. Unfortunately, there were powerful forces in the U.S. that believed Japan had no business developing such advanced technologies, which, if successful, would dislodge proprietary American technologies. Thus, TRON, an open system along the lines of Linux, was listed as a "potential trade barrier" by the Office of the United States Trade Representative in 1989. As a result, Japanese companies more interested in exporting than developing their home market with their own technologies dropped TRON like a hot potato. This led to the derailing in short order of the BTRON educational computer project, the TRON VLSI CPU microprocessor project, and the TRON intelligent building projects.

Well, all these projects have now been revived. Last year a low-cost BTRON-based educational terminal incorporating the latest technologies was announced, and it is now in testing in primary and middle schools in the Tokyo area. Although a microprocessor project per se has not been revived, a standardized and open hardware development platform called T-Engine has been created, and its comes with a standardized and open kernel, monitor, and development environment. In addition, T-Engine is also equipped with a security architecture called eTRON, something that wasn't even on the drawing boards in the 1980s. To top it all off, there is a new Ubiquitous ID (uID) project that has been launched to develop the technologies for creating ubiquitous computing environments in which human living and work spaces will be computerized. In short, the TRON Architecture is back with a vengeance. It has finally come out of the long, dark tunnel of fear, uncertainty, and doubt and is now headed for a bright future.