RIP Dennis Ritchie
It’s a common oldster refrain that when you reach a certain age, you have to get used to people you know dying. I think that we, as a community, will have to accept the fact that over the next decade we’re going to wave goodbye to many of those who were the architects of 70s computer technology.
He died the same month as his contemporary Steve Jobs, but in many ways, he lived on the opposite side of the tech spectrum: Jobs was a great businessman, but Ritchie was a technology man. His contributions to the C programming language and the UNIX operating system are probably the achievements that have had the biggest impact on the world of Linux.
The C programming language was developed by Ritchie in the late 60s. By the mid-70s it had become the language of choice for the system level programmer, offering as it did the advantages of a high-level programming language alongside some of the efficiency of assembly language. It's not as dominant these days because more powerful computers have allowed more complex, and less efficient, languages to become viable choices for application development and even for operating system and driver work. However, it remains, by far, the predominant language in the Linux kernel source code. In addition, the influence of C can be felt in almost all subsequent high-level languages.
The creation of C would have ensured that Ritchie's legacy in computer technology was a substantial one, but he was also one of the main creators of the original UNIX operating system. From UNIX sprang MINIX, a teaching system that inspired Linus to create Linux. BSD, MacOSX and Solaris are other systems that owe their existence to UNIX. Even if not UNIX derivative, all modern operating systems owe something to the influence of UNIX.
Goodbye Mr. Ritchie, and thanks for all of your work in shaping the nerdier side of tech. We'll try to keep our braces closed and our pointers legal.
UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.