Expedition 19 Flight Engineer Michael Barratt (left), Expedition 18/19 Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata and U.S. spaceflight participant Charles Simonyi.
Charles Simonyi, seen on the right, will rejoin Microsoft with the acquisition of his company Intentional Software PHOTO: NASA

Microsoft doubled down on its productivity vision yesterday with the announcement that it would buy Intentional Software.

Bellevue, Wash.-based Intentional develops productivity tools across hardware devices and is pushing the boundaries of what can be done in the productivity space.

The financial details of the deal were not disclosed, but another detail is of interest: namely, one of Intentional's founders. 

Charles Simonyi founded Intentional in 2002 with Gregor Kiczales. If Simonyi's name doesn't ring a bell for his software development work, you may have heard of him in recent years as one of the first space tourists ever after two visits in 2007 and 2009 respectively to the International Space Station.

Microsoft Brings One of Its Own Back to the Fold

But Simonyi is far more important to Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft for another reason, which could have a major impact on the development of Microsoft’s productivity applications.

Hungarian-born Simonyi was head of what was then Microsoft's application software group where, in the early 1980s, he oversaw the creation of the original Office suite of applications. He also did a stint at Norfolk, Mass.-based Xerox before that.

Simonyi launched Intentional based on work he started while still at Microsoft. From the Intentional site:

"Intentional Software builds on the Intentional Programming project led by Charles Simonyi at Microsoft Research."

With Microsoft so heavily invested in Office 365 and Office it is understandable why they would want him back in the fold and not in the hands of a company like Salesforce, for example, which has already shown an appetite for productivity software with its acquisition of Quip in 2016. 

The acquisition, however, is not just about thwarting potential competitors. It’s also about Microsoft’s productivity strategy moving forward. 

In a blog post announcing the deal, Rajesh Jha, executive vice president, Office Product Group explained,

“This acquisition will build on the work we’re already doing to deliver the tools necessary to be productive in an information-rich world. 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,” he wrote.

“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."

Bringing 'Futuristic Scenarios to Life'

Intentional will join the Microsoft Office Product Group, with Simonyi as a technical fellow. So what exactly does Intentional bring to Microsoft in terms of technology?

Simonyi explained the original idea behind International was to build a platform that “interacts with knowledge bases in general and heterogeneous distributed documents in particular,” a vision that apparently mixes the physical and digital worlds. 

The company has been in discussions with Microsoft for the past two years to map out any potential synergies between the companies.

Simonyi’s vision for productivity is far-reaching and points to some of the directions that Microsoft has taken its Surface Book, Studio and Hub devices. 

Future devices, he wrote in a blog about the acquisition, "should show all kinds of data side-by-side and interwoven as a universal surface. Interaction with the data could be directed by pointing, with pens, gestures and even voice. You would be 'interacting with the documents' themselves rather than with apps as such.”

Simonyi adds, “When combined with the existing Microsoft technologies and the future technologies that are under development there, the synergies will bring many futuristic scenarios to life.”

Jha shared Simonyi's vision of Intentional feeding directly into Microsoft’s productivity work:

"This acquisition will build on the work we’re already doing to deliver the tools necessary to be productive in an information-rich world. 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,” he wrote.

The deal is subject to regulatory approval.