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Simonyi tells programmers to leave the Dark Ages

Charles Simonyi, space traveler and former Microsoft application group head, says Intentional Software's technology can help break the development bottleneck.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Charles Simonyi--legendary Microsoft programmer, good friend of Martha Stewart and space tourist--doesn't have many good things to say about the current state of his own profession, software engineering.

He says businesses are stuck in a "poverty economy," using only the cheap and crude tools available to write programs. And he calls software development "the bottleneck on the high-tech horn of plenty."

Simonyi spoke at EmTech, the Emerging Technologies Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology here Wednesday, where he described his solution to the programming problem.

Professionally, Simonyi is well-known for his role in heading up Microsoft's PC applications in group in the 1980s. He is also known for his personal relationship with Martha Stewart and the trip he took to space earlier this year.

Charles Simonyi, Intentional Software. Martin LaMonica/CNET Networks

Five years ago, he founded Intentional Software which has created technology that seeks to speed up software programming and thus help solve business problems.

Traditional software development is hampered by communication barriers. Businesspeople who are "domain experts" in how their companies operate tell technical people--programmers--what they need software to do to solve their business problems.

This transfer of requirements from businesspeople to programmers is problematic because the parties speak different languages and companies' needs change.

Intentional's technology is designed to enable businesspeople to express their requirements in a way that doesn't demand that they learn computer languages. It is also designed to help software engineers generate code based on businesspeople's requirement descriptions.

"Businesspeople lack the means of expressing themselves. Our proposition is to fully integrate domain experts into software development," Simonyi said.

During his talk, Simonyi said existing technologies for modeling business applications or domain-specific languages--used by software development powerhouses like his former employer, Microsoft, and IBM--are not complete or flexible enough.

"The reason (Intentional's software) will work is because the applicability is vastly greater," he said.

People can continue to use those technologies from more established providers. They can stay on the "edge of the renaissance and not enter the Industrial Age."

"I want to take the bigger step, and I think it's important for someone to make the investment in the technology," he said.

During his talk, Simonyi described a positive experience of an Intentional Software customer, consulting firm Capgemini's financial-services group in the Netherlands.

Previous programming techniques resulted in an expensive and brittle process, he said. The Intentional software enabled the Capgemini team to reduce the number of handoffs between different parties in the application development process.

"This system is equally applicable in other domains," he said.