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TRON Competes for the Info-Appliance Market (May 22, 2003)

Professor Ken Sakamura
Professor Ken Sakamura, the father of TRON (Jiji)
TRON stands for The Real-Time Operating System Nucleus. It is a computer operating system from Japan that was thought up by Professor Ken Sakamura of the University of Tokyo in 1984. Sakamura has been a pioneer of the idea of "ubiquitous computing," in which tiny semiconductor chips are embedded in every product, enabling computers to monitor situations and to support people in their daily lives without specific prompting. In simple terms, this concept means having computers everywhere.

TRON Already Used in Cellphones, Digital Cameras
What distinguishes TRON from other operating systems like Windows is the extremely high speed at which data is processed and the fact that the source code is freely available. These are just two of the reasons why TRON is installed in most Japanese-made cellphones and digital cameras, as well as in many other electronic products, such as audio-visual devices, rice cookers, air conditioners, fax machines, karaoke machines, and car-engine control devices. The mini-computers fitted to these devices are called embedded chips, and about 5.3 billion of them are produced worldwide each year. It is thought that about half of these run on TRON. Since only about 150 million PCs are shipped each year, these figures mean that TRON is used in far more machines than the overwhelming leader in the personal computing market, Microsoft's Windows OS. In fact, in terms of machine numbers TRON is the most widely used OS in the world.

Recently it is TRON's open-source status that has been attracting attention. Microsoft has never revealed the source code - the blueprint - for Windows, insisting that it is a corporate secret, and has refused to allow others to adapt its OS as they wish. For this reason, the inner workings of Windows have remained a mystery, and some public institutions and corporations have complained at not knowing what is inside the OS. The lack of transparency even led the Chinese government and some public organs in Europe to worry that state secrets might be vulnerable to leaks when held on Windows machines. Some of them have therefore started to switch to the open-source Linux OS developed by Finnish programmer Linus Torvalds instead.

TRON Set for Use in Info-Appliances
In Japan, the E-Life Strategy Research Group, an independent group formed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry's Commerce and Information Policy Bureau and whose members include the president of a major electronics maker and university professors, agreed in March that Linux or TRON should be used in info-appliances (electrical appliances that are connected to the Internet). METI and Japanese electronics makers are keen to move away from Windows and to nurture a homegrown OS in order to secure a leading position for Japanese firms in the info-appliance market. Info-appliances bring to mind images of such products as the air conditioner that switches itself on as you come home from work and the fridge that orders a delivery of beer from the liquor store when your stock runs low.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has decided to reveal its source code to government organs and others, providing certain conditions are met. It has also announced that it will make the source code for Windows CE, its OS for info-appliances, freely available and will not object to manufacturers or others altering Windows CE or selling products installed with an adapted version. Some see these moves as a response to the success of Linux and TRON.

Having started life as the invention of a university professor, TRON seems to have a bright future in cutting-edge electronics for the twenty-first century.

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Ken Sakamura

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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