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App Inventor returns with maker

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Google and MIT have built a new home for App Inventor, the Android-programming-kit-for-non-programmers that was just jettisoned from the Mountain View mothership.

On Tuesday, the two announced the creation of the MIT Center for Mobile Learning, which will be "actively engaged in studying and extending" App Inventor under the aegis of the famed MIT Media Lab.

In a blog post, Hal Abelson - the MIT computer science and engineering professor who created App Inventor while on sabbatical at Google - said the new center is funded in part by Mountain View's University Relations program.

Abelson and Google unveiled the App Inventor project little more than a year ago, saying its goal was turn just about anyone into Android app developer. The system offers visual building blocks that can be pieced together into applications, letting you develop without actually writing code.

After The New York Times profiled the project and Google posted a brief video of the system to the web, some decided the platform had to potential to turn the programming world upside down. But App Inventor was no more than a rather clever way of building extremely simple applications, and it wasn't all that different from Scratch, the existing visual programming system that served as its inspiration.

According to Abelson and Google, App Inventor now "supports a community of about 100,000 educators, students, and hobbyists. But last week, it was revealed that - following the demise of Google Labs - Mountain View had decided to discontinue App Inventor as an in-house project and open source the code. This too was met with a certain amount of drama from the pundit class, but in reality, not much has changed.

Scratch was developed at MIT. So you might say that App Inventor is returning home - along with its maker.

The lesson to learn here is that when Google puts its name on an experimental software project, there is no reason to assume it's anything more than an experimental software project. ®

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