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Intentional Software’s work provokes two main lines of criticism. Some theoretically minded skeptics say Simonyi’s goal of capturing computer users’ intentions is implausible. “How do you represent intent?” asks computer scientist Jaron Lanier. “As soon as we know how the brain stores information, maybe we can represent intent. To me it just seems like a fantasy.” Another argument, common among programmers, is more practical. Many programmers love their text-based editors and distrust tools that distance them from raw code. As for graphical programming languages like Visual Basic and the integrated development environments (IDEs) that automate routine programming tasks, they regard them with condescension: such tools, they say, impose their own ways of doing things, constrain creativity, and keep programmers from the code that, sooner or later, they must confront. (To understand why programmers are so wary, see ” The Law of Leaky Abstractions ”) 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 Intentional Software in the Internet’s teeming coder forums. In part, that’s because so few have seen its software. Intentional’s work has proceeded with some secrecy.

When he started Intentional Software, Simonyi partnered 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 veteran of PARC, has spent his career working on ways to “make the code look like the design.” Kiczales saw joining Simonyi as a chance to further that end. But Kiczales trusted 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 first release would have been in six months.” The disagreement was friendly but irreconcilable, both men say, and before long, Kiczales had left.

For now, sheltered by Simonyi’s wealth, Intentional Software has no target date or shipping deadline. But one of its two main customers claims to be close to deploying Intentional tools. Capgemini–a Paris-based international IT services and consulting firm 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 field’s “very complex rules, intertwined with complex business domain structure,” make Simonyi’s approach look attractive, says Henk Kolk, Capgemini’s financial-services technology officer, who is leading the firm’s work with Intentional.

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Credit: Brian Smale

Tagged: Computing

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