Home' Technology Review : January February 2007 Contents 48 FEATURE STORY
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
Skeptical programmers look at Intentional Software and
see the prospect of just another IDE. To those who think
that real programmers write text, intentional programming
is neither very original nor much wanted.
But mostly, there s surprisingly little discussion of Inten-
tional Software in the Internet s teeming coder forums. In
part, that s because so few have seen its software. Inten-
tional s work has proceeded with some secrecy.
When he started Intentional Software, Simonyi part-
nered with a University of British Columbia professor
named Gregor Kiczales. Simonyi admired Kiczales s work
on aspect-oriented programming---a way of organizing and
modifying code according to "cross-cutting concerns" that
resembles intentional programming. Kiczales, another vet-
eran of PARC, has spent his career working on ways to
"make the code look like the design." Kiczales saw join-
ing Simonyi as a chance to further that end. But Kiczales
tr usted open-source development, where Simonyi did not.
The Microsoft-style closed-shop approach simply didn t
feel "organic" to Kiczales. "I would have done it in Java,"
he says. "The rst release would have been in six months."
The disagreement was friendly but ir reconcilable, both men
say, and before long, Kiczales had left.
For now, sheltered by Simonyi s wealth, Intentional Soft-
ware has no target date or shipping deadline. But one of its
two main customers claims to be close to deploying Inten-
tional tools. Capgemini---a Paris-based inter national IT
services and consulting r m that serves large enterprises
and whose CTO, Andy Mulholland, is an acquaintance of
Simonyi s---began working with Intentional last March and
is considering using Intentional s system for projects in the
European pensions business. The eld s "very complex
rules, intertwined with complex business domain struc-
ture," make Simonyi s approach look attractive, says Henk
Kolk, Capgemini s nancial-ser vices technology o cer,
who is leading the rm s work with Intentional.
Simonyi s fascination with space has been lifelong. As a
13-year-old, he won a competition to become Hungary s
"Junior Astronaut" and traveled to Moscow to meet a cos-
monaut. As a new hire at Microsoft in 1981, he convinced
cofounder Paul Allen to play hooky from developing the
IBM PC s new operating system and y to Florida to watch
the space shuttle s rst ight.
Simonyi s coming blasto o ers him a full-circle reunion
with the Soviet-era technology that set his life s course. He
has been training for months at Russia s Yuri Gagarin Cos-
monaut Training Center in Star City, mastering the details
of space suits and space toilets, and learning Russian.
The space trip will con rm Simonyi s status as that
highly unlikely thing: a celebrity programmer. He has two
jets and a pilot s license to y them. He tur ns up in the
tabloids as the frequent companion of homemaking s high
priestess, Martha Stewart. He has built a 233-foot yacht
with a wraparound glass-walled deck. He has funded an
Oxford professorship for his friend Richard Dawkins, the
None of this, of course, will make any di erence in the
outcome of Simonyi s quest to alleviate the chronic woes of
the software eld. "It s not enough to be a great program-
mer," Simonyi once told Michael Hiltzik, author of a
history of PARC. "You have to nd a great problem."
Intentional might never deliver on its grand prom-
ises. But no one can charge Simonyi with choosing
too modest a problem.
His home these days is a mansion on Lake Wash-
ington, down the shore from Bill Gates s house, with
an art gallery, a glass-enclosed swimming pool, a heli-
port, a computer lab with magnetically lined walls,
and a lathe and drill press in the basement (to ful ll
those Erector Set cravings). The house cost $10 mil-
lion to build: it is tilted at a seven-degree angle and "looks
like a slight earthquake hit it," in the words of New York
Times writer Patricia Leigh Brown, who marveled at its
"her metically sealed, mathematical precision" and found
it "so vast that a visitor can feel like a lonely asteroid rat-
tling around the solar system."
"[Only] Charles would build a 20,000-square-foot home
with one bedroom," Simonyi s dissertation advisor and
PARC colleague Butler Lampson once remarked. The
lone bedroom boasts a cockpit-like control center that lets
Simonyi tweak all his systems---heating, entertainment, tele-
phone, lighting, and watering---to his satisfaction. "Like a
submarine," he explained to Brown. "They all have to be
green before you submerge." There s also a pivoting bed,
which Simonyi can use to ne-tune his view---out across the
lake; or over to the Seattle skyline, with its warrens of o ce
workers wrestling with their documents and spreadsheets;
or up into the starry night sky, where his latest journey will
soon take him.
Scott Rosenberg is vice president of special projects at Salon.com. He
is the author of Dreaming in Code.
Simonyi announced intentional
programming to the world in a
September 1995 paper titled "The
Death of Computer Languages." It
was time, as he later put it, "for the
cobbler's children to get some shoes."
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