This morning I woke up to the news that Dennis Ritchie died a couple of days ago. Some of my readers may not know who he was, he was never a showman like Steve Jobs, or took part in product launches. None the less, he was one of the big names and early pioneers in IT.
Ritchie was best known as the creator of the C programming language and a key developer of the Unix operating system, and as co-author of the definitive book on C, The C Programming Language, commonly referred to as K&R (in reference to the authors Kernighan and Ritchie).
Ritchie's invention of C and his role in the development of UNIX alongside Ken Thompson has placed him as an important pioneer of modern computing. The C language is still widely used today in application and operating system development, and its influence is seen in most modern programming languages. UNIX has also been influential, establishing concepts and principles that are now precepts of computing.
I remember when I started learning C, back in 1989. I had already been exposed to first Basic and then Pascal earlier, and until I understand the beauty of C, the whole thing with pointers confused me to no end. But eventually I got pretty decent at writing C code. I also started using Unix (HP-UX) about the same time. A couple of years later, I wrote a couple of small Windows program, again using C. Back in the early days of Windows, C was the only language you could use to write Windows applications.
It is amazing that a person who created some of the most widely used products is not more well known. Dennis Ritchie is at least as important in the history of computing as Steve Jobs. C and Unix may not be as sexy as iPhones, iPods and Macintosh computers, but they are probably more important if you look at the big picture. Apples OS X is based on Unix, and developers use Objective C to create programs and apps for OS X and iOS. Without Dennis Ritchie, the world would probably look very different.
1941 – 2011