Intentional Programming

EECS Joint Colloquium Distinguished Lecture Series

charles simonyi

Dr. Charles Simonyi
Distinguished Engineer, Microsoft Corporation

Wednesday, October 25, 2000
Hewlett Packard Auditorium, 306 Soda Hall
4:00-5:00 p.m.


One of the basic rules of management is "Don't just tell people 'How', also tell them 'Why'". Yet when we delegate tasks to the computer by programming, we focus entirely on "How", namely the implementation, and we often neglect to record the "Why", which we will term the "intention". The talk will present a transformational schema where programs are expressed in terms of intentions and the transformations of the intentions into implementation. The schema is supported by an interactive technology that permits direct manipulation of the source trees of intentions. The benefits include the ability to program in domain specific terms, but without preset domain boundaries.

A short video of the prototype system developed at Microsoft Research will be also shown.


Charles Simonyi joined Microsoft in 1981 to start the development of microcomputer application programs. He hired and managed teams who developed Microsoft Excel, Multiplan, Word, and other software applications. In 1991, he moved on to Microsoft Research where he focused on Intentional Programming, a new approach to program representation where new abstraction mechanisms can be introduced without invalidating legacy code, so that the development of new programming language features can be greatly accelerated.

Before coming to Microsoft, Simonyi worked at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) from 1972-80, developing Bravo, the first WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor. He also spent one year starting in 1967 at A/S Regnecentralen in Copenhagen.

Dr. Simonyi, born in Budapest, Hungary, holds a bachelor of science degree in engineering mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley, 1972, and a doctorate in computer science from Stanford, 1976. His thesis was "Meta-programming: a Software Production Method." In 1997 he has been elected to be a member of the National Academy of Engineering for "his contributions to the development of widely used desktop productivity software".

Simonyi has endowed chairs for "Public Understanding of Science" at Oxford University - presently held by Prof. Richard Dawkins; for "Theoretical Physics" at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton - held by Prof. Ed Witten; and for "Educational Technology" at Stanford - held by Prof. Eric Roberts.