Charles Simonyi is Returning to Microsoft

Posted on April 18, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Dev, Office, Office 365 with 9 Comments

Charles Simonyi is Returning to Microsoft

Charles Simonyi, the creator of the world’s first WYSIWYG word processor and the “Hungarian notation” style of writing programming code, is returning to Microsoft. He is also famous for having started Microsoft’s Office product lines when he was the chief architect of both Microsoft Word and Excel.

Oh, and he went to outer space. Twice.

Yes, he’s accomplished a few things. Yes, this is a big deal.

“When I first joined Microsoft in February 1981 I was truly privileged to take part in the PC revolution, from just a glimmer of what was to come while I was at Xerox, and then at Microsoft creating the ecosystem leading to the universal acceptance of the mouse-based GUI interface and networking,” Mr. Simonyi writes on the Intentional Software website; Microsoft is purchasing the company he cofounded when he left the software giant in 2002. “For the last two years, we were working closely with Microsoft to see if there are synergies between our technology and Microsoft’s plans, which eventually led to today’s acquisition announcement.”

Why Microsoft purchased Intentional—getting Mr. Simonyi back in the process—is open to some speculation. But Microsoft executive vice president Rajesh Jha provides some clues.

“Intentional Software [is] a company that has been focused on creating a platform for a new generation of team productivity apps,” he writes in the Official Microsoft blog. “we continue to push ourselves to think about new ways to empower people … Intentional Software’s technology and talent will enhance our existing capabilities and strengthen our ability to add new tools and services to Microsoft’s robust productivity offering. We’re excited about the company’s work on productivity applications, especially given our focus of putting people at the center of experiences and our continued effort to reimagine collaboration.”

Mr. Simonyi also hints at what brought him back to Microsoft.

“One can imagine many new use scenarios that cut across devices,” he writes, noting how much interoperable pen- and touch-enabled devices, like Microsoft’s Surface lineup, have changed things. “In real life we have many desktops, and many other surfaces(!) such as whiteboards, bulletin boards, clipboards, and PC displays where data can be present or moved. The PC desktop should not, and need not, remain a limiting metaphor.”

Simonyi goes on to discuss group of people working together in various capacities, the many surfaces which we interact with that display data, and how “the surfaces on the new devices should show all kinds of data side-by-side and interwoven as a universal surface.” In the future, he says, we will interact with documents, not apps, using pointing, gestures, pens, touch, and voice, and machine learning will power the back-end.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, this is the type of work Mr. Simonyi has been doing since he left Microsoft. The Intentional Software website is now pretty bare, but it describes the company’s work as “reinventing productivity software” and “transforming how teams work in the modern workplace.”

“Intentional Software builds on the Intentional Programming project led by Charles Simonyi at Microsoft Research,” the site explains. “Our next generation application platform for team productivity is designed for the latest hardware technologies and the modern workplace.”

When I was coming up in the Microsoft world over 20 years ago, Charles Simonyi was well-established as a key player in the software giant’s early days, especially from the perspective of software development, given his creation of Hungarian notation. But he also created Microsoft’s application group, led the initial creation of Word and Excel (and Excel’s predecessor, Multiplan), and the Office suite of offerings, and was an early proponent of cross-platform code. Simonyi single-handedly introduced Microsoft to Object Oriented Programming (OOP) when he joined the firm.

 

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Comments (9)

9 responses to “Charles Simonyi is Returning to Microsoft”

  1. Avatar

    Mark from CO

    Paul:

    Perhaps there is a light in the darkness.  Notice the emphasis on developing a "productivity platform."  I hope this is truly about a platform (where Microsoft can lead) and not about software products and services (where Microsoft is at the beholding of the platform owner).  Could this be a successor to the Windows platform down the road?

    Mark from CO

  2. Avatar

    skane2600

    As long as he doesn't resurrect the monster that was Hungarian notation. Type checking is the job of the compiler, no need to couple variable names with types. a_crszkvc30LastNameCol: anyone? Of course, all naming conventions are to a certain extent arbitrary, inconsistent and incomplete.

    • Avatar

      Neville Bagnall

      In reply to skane2600:

      It's been stated many times elsewhere but the original intent was not to encode type - particularly in strictly typed languages - but semantic purpose. Unfortunately the notation was made "popular" by the systems group rather than the applications group so most programmers have only ever encountered the less useful variation. It also predated the modern IDE's that made determining semantic information about variables so easy.

      • Avatar

        skane2600

        In reply to Neville Bagnall:

        As noted in the link you provided, there was originally a mix of type and semantic information conveyed. But the distinction between type information and semantic information is somewhat artificial. Application Hungarian often uses generic terms to convey meaning which suggest the flavor of a type.

  3. Avatar

    chaad_losan

    Sounds like Microsoft got a bargain. MS needs super geniuses. Badly.

  4. Avatar

    sharpsone

    The idea of working from docs across multiple data streams intrigues... I can see how the walls built by apps eventually fade over time.

    Sometimes it can take an old dog to lead young minds that stray. Inexperience comes with youth...you can't teach experience. A good move by MS.

    • Avatar

      maethorechannen

      In reply to sharpsone:


      "I can see how the walls built by apps eventually fade over time."


      Yeah, except it never happens because the app developer wants you to know that you're using their app and not some generic surface. From OpenDoc and OLE of 25 odd years ago to Window's Mobile 7 socially integrated People feature, the promise never materialises.

  5. Avatar

    Roger Ramjet

    Again another hint that Microsoft is "[think]ing different". Looks to me they are first doubling down on desktop/windows (i.e. Rather than continue trying to fight in mobile phones), but they are doing so in part because they believe they can extend it to "[Surface]s, likely via Cloud and IOT services, so when they do something seemingly impractical like Studio, they are not merely trying to breath new life into old form factors, they think this is the basis for future next big things. You see this also with Surface Hub.


    If if they are going to succeed, they will need to start demonstrating separation from Google in some of these areas that is their own priority. Schools would seem like one area, they have lots of small s surfaces where data are transferred in those. We also need to start seeing more innovative non traditional value add products for their core audience building off many of the new tech in Windows 10.


  6. Avatar

    xbliss

    This will be interesting.

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