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Charles Simonyi

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Charles Simonyi
Simonyi in 2006
Born (1948-09-10) September 10, 1948 (age 75)
United States
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley
Stanford University
OccupationSoftware architect
Known forHungarian notation, space tourism, intentional programming
Notable workMicrosoft Office
Lisa Persdotter
(m. 2008)
Space career
Space Adventures tourist
Time in space
26d 14h 27m
MissionsSoyuz TMA-10/TMA-9, Soyuz TMA-14/TMA-13

Charles Simonyi (/sɪˈmni/; Hungarian: Simonyi Károly, pronounced [ˈʃimoɲi ˈkaːroj]; born September 10, 1948) is a Hungarian-American software architect.

He introduced the graphical user interface to Bill Gates for the first time who later described it as the first of two revolutionary things he felt in his life.[1]

He started and led Microsoft's applications group, where he built the first versions of Microsoft Office.[2]

He co-founded and led Intentional Software (acquired by Microsoft in 2017),[2] with the aim of developing and marketing his concept of intentional programming.[3][4][5]

In April 2007, aboard Soyuz TMA-10, he became the fifth space tourist and the second Hungarian in space. In March 2009, aboard Soyuz TMA-14, he made a second trip to the International Space Station.

As of November 15, 2022, Simonyi's net worth was US$5.2 billion.[6]


Early life[edit]

Simonyi was born in Budapest, Hungary. His father, Károly Simonyi, was a Kossuth Prize-winning professor of electrical engineering[7] at the Technical University of Budapest, and created the first Hungarian nuclear particle accelerator.[8] While in secondary school he worked part-time as a night watchman at a computer laboratory in the early 1960s, overseeing a large Soviet Ural II[9] mainframe. He took an interest in computing[10] and learned to program from one of the laboratory's engineers. By the time he left school, he had learned to develop compilers and sold one of these to a government department. He presented a demonstration of his compiler to the members of a Danish computer trade delegation.[10] In 2006 he said that when he was young his dream was, "to get out of Hungary, go to the West and be free."[11]


At the age of 17, Simonyi left Hungary on a short-term visa but did not return.[2] He was hired by Denmark's A/S Regnecentralen in 1966 where he worked with Per Brinch Hansen and Peter Kraft on the RC 4000 minicomputer's Real-time Control System,[12] and with Peter Naur on the GIER ALGOL compiler.[13]

He subsequently moved from Denmark to the United States in 1968 to attend the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his BS in Engineering Mathematics & Statistics in 1972 under Butler Lampson.[13] He has honorary doctorate degrees from the Juilliard School in New York and from the University of Pecs in Hungary.[14]

Simonyi was recruited to Xerox PARC[2] by Butler Lampson during its most productive period, working alongside Lampson, Alan Kay and Robert Metcalfe on the development of the Xerox Alto, one of the first personal computers. He and Lampson developed Bravo, the first WYSIWYG document preparation program, which became operational in 1974. During this time he received his PhD in computer science from Stanford University in 1977 with a dissertation on a software project management technique he called meta-programming.[15] This approach sought to defeat Brooks' law by scaling programming through a formalization of communication among programmers. In the 1992 book Accidental Empires (ISBN 0-88730-855-4), Robert X. Cringely gave this description:

Simonyi's dissertation was an attempt to describe a more efficient method of organizing programmers to write software... the metaprogrammer was the designer, decision maker, and communication controller in a software development group.... individual programmers were allowed to make no design decisions about the project. All they did was write the code as described by the metaprogrammer.... A programmer with a problem or a question would take it to the metaprogrammer, who could come up with an answer or transfer the question to another programmer...

Simonyi remained at PARC until 1981.

In 1997, Simonyi was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering for developing widely used desktop productivity software. He also became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008. Since 1998 Simonyi has served as member of the Board of Trustees of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and was its Chairman in 2008.[16] Simonyi received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement in 2000.[17][18]


In 1981, at Metcalfe's suggestion, he visited Bill Gates at Microsoft who suggested Simonyi start an applications group at Microsoft with the first application being a WYSIWYG word processor.[10] At Microsoft, Simonyi built the organization and applications of what became its most profitable products, Word and Excel, as well as Excel's predecessor Multiplan. For the applications, Simonyi pursued a strategy called the "revenue bomb", whereby the product ran on a virtual machine that was ported to each platform. The resulting applications were highly portable, although Microsoft's focus and IBM's standardization on MS-DOS eventually made portability less important.[19]

In a 2002 news item, The Age noted that Simonyi introduced the concept of metaprogramming at Microsoft, turning it into what people sometimes referred to as a software factory, but the metaprogramming concept "did not work out in practice."[20]

Simonyi introduced to Microsoft the techniques of object-oriented programming that he had learned at Xerox. He developed the Hungarian notation convention[21] for naming variables. These standards were originally part of his doctoral thesis.[21] The Hungarian notation has been widely used inside Microsoft.[22]

Intentional Software[edit]

Simonyi remained at Microsoft during its rapid rise in the software industry, becoming one of its highest-ranking developers. He left Microsoft in 2002 to co-found, with business partner Gregor Kiczales, a company called Intentional Software.[23] This company markets the intentional programming concepts Simonyi developed at Microsoft Research.[24] In this approach to software, a programmer first builds a language environment specific to a given problem domain (such as life insurance). Domain experts, aided by the programmer, then describe the program's intended behavior in a What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG)-like manner. An automated system uses the program description and the language to generate the final program. Successive changes are only done at the WYSIWYG level.[25]

In 2004, Simonyi received the Wharton Infosys Business Transformation Award for the industry-wide impact of his innovative work in information technology.[26]

On April 18, 2017, Intentional Software was acquired by Microsoft.[27]


Simonyi currently holds 11 patents:

US patent 6070007  US patent 6665866  US patent 2001037496  WO patent 2004102380  WO patent 2007053833  WO patent 2007076269  EP patent 1923782  JP patent 2008140410  US patent 2010146377  JP patent 2010146583  US patent 2010229092 


Simonyi has been an active philanthropist.

He has funded the establishment of three professorships:

In 2003 he founded the Charles and Lisa Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle. The foundation provides grants to outstanding organization in art, sciences and education.[14][16] Grant recipients have included the Seattle Symphony ($10 million), and the Seattle Public Library ($3 million), the Metropolitan Opera, the Juilliard School and the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, which will host the Simonyi Survey Telescope.[28] The $100 million foundation closed in 2013.[29]

In February 2017, Simonyi and his wife Lisa gave the University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) department $5 million towards the completion of a new building.[30]

Political activity[edit]

Simonyi was one of few notable early supporters of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign when he made the maximum primary donation of $2,700 in 2015.[31] Simonyi went on to contribute $200,000 to Donald Trump's 2020 presidential campaign.[32]

OpenSecrets shows Simonyi has contributed to numerous Republican candidates, the Republican National Committee, and several state Republican committees. [33]

Personal life[edit]

Simonyi dated Martha Stewart for 15 years until 2008.[34]

Simonyi is married to Lisa Persdotter, the daughter of a Swedish millionaire. She is 32 years his junior. They were married on November 22, 2008 in a private ceremony in Gothenburg, Sweden, attended by their closest friends, among them Bill Gates.[35][36] The couple went on to have two daughters.[37]

Simonyi became a United States citizen in 1982.[11][38]

Simonyi formerly spent six months per year[39] on his custom-built 233-foot (71 m) long super yacht named Skat.[39] The yacht was sold in 2021. As of 2023 he is instead the owner a yacht named NORN which is 295-foot long (90 m). The yacht was designed by Espen Oeino, and is registered in the Cayman Islands.[40]

His residence in Medina, Washington, "Villa Simonyi", is a modern house designed by architect Wendell Lovett, where Simonyi displays his collection of paintings by Roy Lichtenstein and Victor Vasarely.[41][42][43]


In early 2006, Simonyi expressed interest in becoming a space tourist and signed agreements with the space tourism company, Space Adventures, Ltd., for a ten-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

In August 2006, he passed a pre-qualification medical exam by the Russian Federal Space Agency, called the State Medical Commission (GMK). He started training at Star City in September 2006.[44]

He launched on April 7, 2007 (GMT),[45] on board Soyuz TMA-10. He shared a ride with two Russian cosmonauts to the International Space Station,[9] and returned aboard Soyuz TMA-9, landing on April 21, 2007.

Upon arrival to the ISS on April 9, 2007, Simonyi said, "It is amazing how it appears from the blackness of the sky. It was very, very dramatic. It was like a big stage set, a fantastic production of some incredible opera or modern play. That's what I was referring to when I said I was blown away."[46]

Simonyi's expected return on April 20, 2007, was delayed by one day due to 'boggy ground'. He returned to Earth on April 21, 2007 along with an American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut.[47]

In October 2008, he booked for a second trip to the ISS through Space Adventures on board Soyuz TMA-14.[48] On March 26, 2009 he returned to space aboard Soyuz TMA-14.[49] He returned to Earth on board Soyuz TMA-13. Along with Soyuz Commander Yuri Lonchakov and Michael Fincke, Simonyi landed in Kazakhstan on April 8, 2009.[50]

Simonyi became the second Hungarian astronaut, the fifth space tourist, and the only one in history who went twice to space as a space tourist who paid his own way on spaceflights. Earlier, the Hungarians were the seventh nation to be represented in space, in 1980, by Bertalan Farkas's spaceflight, 27 years before Simonyi's first one, in 2007. The next Hungarian astronaut will follow Simonyi to the International Space Station by 2025.[51]

Radio communication while aboard ISS[edit]

Charles Simonyi is a licensed amateur radio operator with the call sign KE7KDP, and planned to contact a number of schools while on his flight on the International Space Station using amateur radio for the communication with those schools. On April 11, 2007 the American Radio Relay League reported that Simonyi was already making ham radio contacts from space.[52]

One of the schools Simonyi contacted was Cedar Point Elementary in Bristow, Virginia. A telebridge conversation was held on Tuesday, April 17, 2007. On board with him were Oleg Kotov and Fyodor Yurchikhin.[53] On March 30, 2009 he held a phone conversation with students at the Girls' Middle School in Mountain View, California, United States in which he said that one of the most surprising things about traveling to space was that upon returning to Earth the air feels very thick, very heavy, like "breathing Pepto-Bismol." He also stated that talking with the students from the school "made his day."

Simonyi used his Hungarian call sign HA5SIK[54] when he contacted 25 radio amateurs from Hungary in a record attempt on April 12. He contacted former and current students of Tivadar Puskás Polytechnic, Budapest on April 13.[54]

Simonyi supports The Museum of Flight in Seattle, funding the Space Gallery housing the NASA Shuttle Trainer and many space artifacts.

In popular culture[edit]

Simonyi was portrayed by actor Brian Lester in the TV film Pirates of Silicon Valley.[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gates, Bill. "The Age of AI has begun". gatesnotes.com. Retrieved 2024-02-20.
  2. ^ a b c d Lohr, Steve (2002-09-17). "A Microsoft Pioneer Leaves to Strike Out on His Own". The New York Times. p. C4. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
  3. ^ Simonyi, C. (1999). "The Future is Intentional". Computer. 32 (5): 56–57. doi:10.1109/MC.1999.762800. S2CID 27920850.
  4. ^ Aitken, W.; Dickens, B.; Kwiatkowski, P.; De Moor, O.; Richter, D.; Simonyi, C. (1998). "Transformation in intentional programming". Proceedings. Fifth International Conference on Software Reuse (Cat. No.98TB100203). pp. 114–123. doi:10.1109/ICSR.1998.685736. ISBN 0-8186-8377-5. S2CID 11388901.
  5. ^ Simonyi, C.; Christerson, M.; Clifford, S. (2006). "Intentional software". Proceedings of the 21st annual ACM SIGPLAN conference on Object-oriented programming systems, languages, and applications - OOPSLA '06. p. 451. doi:10.1145/1167473.1167511. ISBN 1595933484. S2CID 10334945.
  6. ^ "Forbes: Real-Time Billionaires". Forbes.com. Retrieved November 15, 2022.
  7. ^ Peter Weibel (2005). Beyond Art: A Third Culture : a Comparative Study in Cultures, Art, and Science in 20th Century Austria and Hungary. Springer. p. 351. ISBN 978-3-211-24562-0.
  8. ^ "Fizikai Szemle 2001/10. - Keszthelyi Lajos: SIMONYI KÁROLY 1916 - 2001". fizikaiszemle.hu. Retrieved 2020-01-23.
  9. ^ a b The Associated Press (2007-04-09). "Soyuz capsule carrying U.S. billionaire Charles Simonyi docks at space station". International Herald Tribune. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  10. ^ a b c Alesso, H. Peter; Craig F. Smith; James Burke (2007). "Charles Simonyi". Connections: Patterns of Discovery. Wiley-IEEE. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-470-11881-8.
  11. ^ a b "From Hungary to the galaxy, Simonyi's goals always high". Seattle Times. 2006-10-27. Retrieved 2015-04-14.
  12. ^ Per Brinch Hansen, ed. (2002). "Foreword". The Origin of Concurrent Programming: From Semaphores to Remote Procedure Calls. Springer. p. 534. ISBN 978-1-4757-3472-0.
  13. ^ a b "Charles Simonyi". Programmers At Work. 25 February 2008. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  14. ^ a b "Charles Simonyi". Computer History Museum. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  15. ^ Simonyi, Charles (December 1976). "Meta-Programming: a Software Production Method" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-03-13. Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  16. ^ a b "Charles & Lisa Simonyi Fund for Arts & Sciences". Bloomberg News. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  17. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  18. ^ "Jeff Bezos Biography and Interview Photo". A discussion on the future of technology at the 2001 Summit. Bezos is joined by Bell Labs President Dr. Jeong Kim, Microsoft's Dr. Charles Simonyi, Stanford President Dr. John L. Hennessy, and tech entrepreneur Dr. Kenan Sahin.
  19. ^ Robert Mitchell (2002-12-09). "Microsoft Days: Transforming the Desktop". Computerworld. Archived from the original on 2008-09-05. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
  20. ^ "Simonyi leaves Microsoft". September 18, 2002.
  21. ^ a b Todd Barron (2001). Multiplayer Game Programming. Thomson Course Technology. p. 220. ISBN 978-0-7615-3298-9.
  22. ^ "Hungarian Notation". Microsoft Developer Network. Microsoft Corporation. 12 July 2006. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  23. ^ "CHARLES SIMONYI: President and CEO". Intentional Software Corporation. Archived from the original on 2008-05-20. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
  24. ^ Charles Simony profile, Google Scholar. Accessed November 15, 2022.
  25. ^ "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Meta". Technology Review. January 2007. Archived from the original on 2012-02-11. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
  26. ^ "Infosys and Wharton School Announce the Wharton Infosys Business Transformation Awards 2004 North America". Infosys. 1 July 2004. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  27. ^ "Microsoft acquires Intentional Software and brings old friend back into fold". 18 April 2017.
  28. ^ "FAQ | Vera Rubin Observatory". www.vro.org. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  29. ^ "$100M Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences closes on schedule". Puget Sound Business Journal. 28 February 2013. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  30. ^ "UW CSE receives $5 million gift from philanthropists, technologists and entrepreneurs Charles and Lisa Simonyi". University of Washington. 16 February 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  31. ^ "Why Is a Major Washington State Art Collector (and Outer Space Traveler) Giving Big Money to Donald Trump?". The Stranger. Retrieved 13 May 2024.
  32. ^ "Here Are The Billionaires Who Donated To Donald Trump's 2020 Presidential Campaign". Forbes. Retrieved 28 March 2024.
  33. ^ "Charles Simonyi Donations". OpenSecrets. Retrieved 13 May 2024.
  34. ^ "Martha Stewart Still Stewing Over Donald Trump". People. 2008-01-12. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
  35. ^ Bergfeldt, Carina; Camilla Sundell (November 22, 2008). "Gates vilda festnatt i Göteborg". Aftonbladet (in Swedish). Retrieved 2009-10-24. (Gates' wild party night in Gothenburg)
  36. ^ Lindwall, Johan T (8 September 2008). "Lisa Persdotter, 28, gifter sig med miljardär". Göteborgs-Tidningen (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 14 October 2008. Retrieved 25 October 2009.
  37. ^ "Simonyi and Persdotter expecting a baby". www.bizjournals.com. Retrieved 2023-04-28.
  38. ^ "SPACEFLIGHT PARTICIPANT CHARLES SIMONYI" (PDF). NASA. 2007. Retrieved 2015-04-14.
  39. ^ a b Blakeley, Kiri (2006-03-27). "Bigger Than Yours". Forbes. Retrieved 2009-04-09.
  40. ^ "NORN Yacht • Charles Simonyi $250 Million Superyacht • Lurssen • 2023". SuperYachtFan. Retrieved 2023-06-02.
  41. ^ "College of Architecture and Urban Planning Newsletter" (PDF). Seattle, Washington: University of Washington. Summer 2003. p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-14. Retrieved 2009-10-24. Villa Simonyi, the sprawling Medina home Architecture Professor Emeritus Wendell Lovett designed for Charles Simonyi, was the subject of an article in the May 18 edition of Pacific Northwest Magazine.
  42. ^ Lohr, Steve (2001). Go To: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists and Iconoclasts - the Programmers who created the software revolution. New York, NY: Basic Books. p. 1. ISBN 0-465-04226-0.
  43. ^ Seven, Richard (May 16, 2003). "Fresh Angles: The beauty is in the geometric interplay of design and function". Pacific Northwest Magazine. Retrieved 2009-10-24. Charles Simonyi, a driving force behind the development of some of Microsoft's most successful software, lives in a sprawling Medina home built over the years in sections as he acquired property from neighbors on both sides. He worked closely with longtime Seattle architect Wendell Lovett to fit idiosyncratic parts into a whole. It is inspired, in part, by one of Simonyi's favorite artists — fellow Hungarian Victor Vasarely, whose optical images have influenced both computer science and architecture.
  44. ^ "'Nerd' outlines space ambitions". BBC News. 2006-10-26. Retrieved 2008-05-21.
  45. ^ "American space 'nerd' blasts off". BBC News Online. 2007-04-07. Retrieved 2008-05-22.
  46. ^ "Tourist Talks From Space". Sky News. 2007-04-11. Archived from the original on 2008-07-18. Retrieved 2008-05-22.
  47. ^ "Space tourist makes safe return". BBC News Online. 2007-04-21. Retrieved 2008-05-22.
  48. ^ "Software billionaire books 2nd trip to space". CBC News. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2008-10-02. Retrieved 2008-10-02.
  49. ^ Harwood, William (2009-03-26). "Russian Rocket Carries Space Tourist". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-03-26.
  50. ^ "Space Adventures' Orbital Spaceflight Client Charles Simonyi Returns to Earth after Completing Second Mission to the International Space Station". spaceref.com. 2009-04-08. Retrieved May 5, 2023.
  51. ^ "Elkezdik keresni az új magyar űrhajost - nyilatkozta Szijjártó". euronews (in Hungarian). 2019-12-13. Retrieved 2019-12-14.
  52. ^ "Civilian Space Traveler Already Making Ham Radio Contacts from Space". American Radio Relay League. 2007-04-11. Archived from the original on October 16, 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-22.
  53. ^ Catchpole, John E. (2008). The International Space Station: Building for the Future. Springer-Praxis books in space exploration. Chichester, United Kingdom: Praxis Publishing. pp. 274–275. ISBN 978-0-387-78144-0.
  54. ^ a b "Rádiókapcsolat Charles Simonyival (Radio Connection with Charles Simonyi)" (in Hungarian). Természet Világa. 2007-04-12.
  55. ^ "Pirates of Silicon Valley cast". IMDb. Retrieved May 28, 2013.

External links[edit]