Thirty-year history of TRON Project

Thirty years of TRON Project

Unexpected counterattack

After the news that CEC was going to designate BTRON as standard educational PC in Japan was publicized highly, increasing number of manufacturers which were interested in PC joined our project. Among them, NEC was not so enthusiastic about it. As they were already successful with its own PC98 series, they might not have wanted to make a different type of PC. They were against the standardization of educational PC itself. However, they eventually agreed to make dual OS PC which could operate either Microsoft MS-DOS, the OS for PC98, and the BTRON OS.

Then suddenly, we were surprised by the news that the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) selected TRON as a candidate for Foreign Trade Barriers. We did not export TRON to the U.S., and anyone could make TRON as it is open and free. IBM was a good example. However, this happened when Japan was in the economic bubble. We heard the news every day that Japanese companies bought many famous real estates in the U.S. U.S. wanted to restrain the economic upturn of Japan, so they tried to remove any future troubles including yet-to-be-released items from Japan. Mr. Mitsui, Vice President of US IBM was worried about the news and made a phone call to me saying “When IBM is also going to make TRON PC, what caused this misunderstanding?” Japanese trade media was all over the USTR announcement, and added oil to the flames, so BTRON faced the fire. False rumors were spread and we got in big trouble.

When I complained to the USTR, they said they wanted to see me immediately and so I visited them. They said that if someone claimed that something might work against the interest of U.S. companies, the USTR would select it as a candidate for Foreign Trade Barriers automatically. They did not tell me the origin of the claim. They asked me if I wanted to argue against the claim. So, I told them that BTRON was open OS and available also for American manufacturers and it would not be against the interest of the U.S. They understood and promised me to investigate the claim.

A year later, the USTR eventually found BTRON harmless. However, the damage had been already done in the meantime. Manufacturers which did not want any trouble, and the people inside the Japanese government, especially those who wanted to reduce their trade surplus with the U.S. suggested to import PC OSs from the U.S. These people did not care about PC which had a relatively small market then―why bother with an OS standard? Such lack of foresight led to the current plight of Japanese ICT sector. Regarding the series of events, Japanese media of that time splashed about the “Rising Sun computer(日の丸パソコン) is non-tariff barrier” and many other sensational headlines. As the trade was flourishing, some took it easy and there were articles that went like “It is a shame if the prime minister is called a transistor salesman” or “The government had better not poke its nose into business.” Some claimed that Microsoft must have concocted the conspiracy back then, but it turned out later that they did not.