CORVALLIS, Ore. - A software company has been created by two computer science professors at Oregon State University who were determined to make computer desktops "smarter" for users working on multiple projects, offering new technology that they say may revolutionize the way people and computers interact.

The new firm is being immediately acquired by Pi Corporation of Seattle.

Smart Desktop was started at OSU by Jon Herlocker and Tom Dietterich to commercialize the results of the TaskTracer research project - technology that uses machine intelligence to automatically classify, sort and organize information for people, by observing and learning from their interactions with their personal computers.

"Everyone knows how frustrating it can be when you're trying to locate files on your computer or network," Herlocker said. "Our software automatically organizes information in a way that is more natural for a person rather than a computer - learning what files, email messages, contacts and other information go with which projects."

"So when you need to switch to a different project, you can instantly bring up all that information associated with the project," he said. "This is going to revolutionize the way people and computers interact. Pi Corporation felt that this technology was so valuable they wanted not only to invest in it, but to own it."

Herlocker, who will serve as the vice president of engineering at Smart Desktop, said the company has already hired one OSU computer science graduate, and hopes to hire more in the coming months. Dietterich will be chief scientist at Smart Desktop. Dietterich and Herlocker also teamed up three years ago to launch the online music recommendation company, which now has offices in Corvallis and Barcelona, Spain.

"This is an impressive example of how university research ultimately creates new companies and new jobs, which is why it's so critical to invest in higher education," said Ron Adams, OSU dean of engineering. "For every state dollar invested in universities, five dollars is returned to a state's economy. I'm very proud of Jon Herlocker and Tom Dietterich, for their innovation, creativity and understanding of entrepreneurship. Their research is directly impacting economic development in a powerful way."

In the new corporate arrangement, Smart Desktop will operate as a division of Pi, but with a separate brand, and the firm will create new products to increase the productivity of information workers.

The OSU research is part of the Intelligent Information Systems Laboratory at the OSU College of Engineering.

Pi Corporation is headquartered in Seattle and was founded two years ago by Paul Maritz, a former Microsoft executive, and Warburg-Pincus of New York, the world's largest venture capital and investment banking firm. The company creates online services that make it easy for individuals to gather information, organize it, share it instantly and securely, and access it from any web-based device. More information on the company can be found on the web at

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Ron Adams,