Computing innovator Alan Kay joins HP research staff

Computer science pioneer Alan Kay is joining Hewlett-Packard Co., where he will work on software development as an HP Labs senior fellow, the company said Tuesday.

Kay has been a leading figure in the development of modern programming languages, including Smalltalk, which he helped invent in the 1970s. An industry force for more than 30 years, Kay was one of the founding researchers at Xerox Corp.'s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where he helped create early GUI (graphical user interface) technologies that still influence software design today.

At HP, Kay will work on development of new software platforms and distributed applications, including those based on open-source code, the company said.

Kay will also continue his work with Viewpoints Research Institute, a Glendale, California, nonprofit organization he co-founded in 2001 that aims to change how children are taught math and science. One of the group's tools is Squeak, a programming language Kay helped develop that relies on direct image manipulation and scripting. Described as an "idea processor" on one Web site dedicated to the technology, Squeak is intended to let users, including children, translate concepts to programs.

Kay's work on the evolution of software and programming could pay off for HP as he explores an area that's of growing importance as technology becomes ever more crucial in corporate and daily life, said one analyst.

"One of the great challenges we face today is that we have all this great computing power, and all these ideas what to do with it, but we're unable to convert those things to software unless we're programmers. How do you make it easier for people to write software? I think that's a very big area of opportunity," said analyst Martin Reynolds, with Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut.

"We'll see what products he produces," Reynolds said. "With these things, you put so much investment in, and some of them turn out to be worthless and some of them explode."

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