No GPL for the T-Engine project

A recent article at CNET Japan offers some interesting info on the Japanese T-Engine project and its ‘non-use’ of the GNU General Public License. T-Engine? you ask. The project’s forum guide states:

T-Engine is an open, standardized real-time operating system development environment for constructing a ubiquitous computing environment.

The CNET article points out that, although the T-Engine uses a sort of open license, its source code is not freely available – according to project leader Prof. Sakamura, it is difficult to use something like the GNU GPL when talking about embedded technologies and ubiquitous computing environments, which is what the T-Engine project is all about. So, instead of the GNU GPL or something similar, the project uses its own “T-License”. Under the hood of this license, a selective group of members participates in the development of the T-Engine standard, without the risk of code-forking and/or unclarity about intellectual property rights (says Sakamura).

Well, I must say that I don’t know a lot about ubiquitous computing architectures, but all this sounds a bit like a “security through opacity” approach, which is not very positive, to say the least. Update: in the comment section, Mohit explains that the security aspect is taken care of by a piece of hardware the eTron. When developing an open standard like T-Engine, I think it is a good idea to keep things open, and thus to release the source code along with the binaries (under the GPL or another similar license). Like this, independent developers can also hook in to write applications for the T-Engine platform, and bugs can be traced easier by the community of developers participating in the project.

Curious in which way this so-called-open-but-in-fact-closed project will evolve…

Comments on “No GPL for the T-Engine project” (feed)

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  1. I agree 120%

    » Anonymous on January 29th, 2005 at 05:01

  2. Hi Guys,

    There are a number of things that are missing in your initial assessment.

    1. The main “open” part of the T-Engine is the open specification. Anyone can build a compliant system, including hardware && software.

    2. There is “open” source available from the T-Engine Forum. So, it is available – not hidden away.

    3. Developers are allowed to change the kernel in any way they see fit. They can optimize it, strip it down, enhance it – whatever they need to do for their project.

    4. Changes made to the platform-independant part of the kernel CANNOT be made available to others. The rationale is to prevent multiple incompatible versions of the kernel appearing. The idea is that if there are many different versions of the kernel, then it will make middleware unable to work on kernels that meet the specification.

    5. The main difference with the GPL (if I understand this bit correctly) is that you can use the code for whatever you like (open source or proprietary) and not need to disclose anything to anyone.

    6. Also, it’s royalty free.

    7. Security is completely different in this project – it’s provided by an extra piece of hardware called the eTRON.

    OK, this is all I have right now. I’ve worked with the project, which is why I have some idea.

    A more detailed technical page regarding the T-Engine sghould be up on my website at

    If you want more information, you could email me from the above site!


    » Mohit Sindhwani on February 8th, 2005 at 00:49

  3. Mohit, the source code is indeed accessible, but only for members, which means approved companies or institutions (no individuals). I wouldn’t call that “open”.

    Thanks for the interesting info – I updated my entry.

    » Andreas on February 8th, 2005 at 01:46

  4. Hi Andreas,

    Quick work with updating the article! You’re right and wrong on the last comment.

    The source code is open – though you have to register for it. You go to the “Subscription” page and apply for the code. In a week (yes, I know that’s a bit of a long time but they process requests manually right now), you get a username and password.

    There is a concept of members – that’s what funds the basic research of the T-Engine Forum.

    Members get the following main advantages:
    1. Early access to stuff being developed (rather than waiting till it’s mature). This could be a benefit of anywhere between 3 – 6 months.

    2. They get to participate in the standardization process.

    General public, however, is free to obtain the source (after registration) and do whatever it wants. Items are released to the public after they have been fixed.

    In my understanding of the project, it is currently more focussed on providing solutions to academia and indsutry, rather than individuals – and this would be another area where it differs from projects like the GNU.

    Hope this helps clarify some more issues :P


    » Mohit Sindhwani on February 8th, 2005 at 12:43