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");

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