Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie 1941-2011

On the heels of last week’s death of the man who turned Unix into a popular consumer product, I am sad to learn of the passing of Dennis Ritchie, inventor of the C programming language and co-developer of the Unix operating system. He was a 1998 laureate of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation for his part in the invention of both C and Unix.

Many who aren’t programmers or engineers may not know Mr Ritchie’s name, but anyone who has learned C will have encountered the book he co-wrote with Brian Kernighan, known as «the K & R book.» While not highly visible like Mr Jobs, Mr Ritchie’s contribution to the world of computing is seen nearly everywhere. Almost every end-user application and every operating system today is writen with some variant of the C programming language, and many programming languages bear a strong syntactical resemblance to C.

Unix is the foundation on which most modern operating systems are founded. Apple’s OS X and iOS are built around BSD Unix, Linux is (intentionally) highly derivative of Unix, and Google’s Android smartphones are built around Linux. IBM’s AIX, Sun’s Solaris, and SGI’s IRIX are or were popular derivations of Unix.

Without question, Mr Ritchie made a larger contribution to computing as we know it today than nearly any other individual in my lifetime. His passing leaves an enormous void in the world of software.

    printf("goodbye, Dennis\n");