Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dennis Ritchie R.I.P.

Last Thursday the news broke that a retiree from Bell Labs in New Jersey, one Dennis Ritchie, had died at the age of 70. I had the great good fortune to meet him once, at a conference in the mid-1980s. I have to say that I was totally in awe of the man, while he made me feel quite normal as we chatted, discussed the lectures we had taken in, and our opinions of the subjects and presenters. As said of so many great men, he seems to have had the facility of putting others at ease with him, despite their initial apprehensions.

At the same time there was an outflowing of commentary on the fact that Steve Jobs had died.

If you feel that Steve Jobs was an important person in the realm of computing, I won't disagree with you. However, please follow this link and read the article about Dennis Ritchie.

You'll see that Apple's computing success (which enabled the company to survive long enough to introduce products such as the iPod and iPhone) is founded on two things - the Objective-C language for people to use to write programs for an Apple and UNIX (adapted into Apple's current line of operating systems). You'll also see that Dennis Ritchie created both of these !

Of course, there are many other companies that depend on these developments and inventions. Unless you use an operating system descended from IBM's OS-360 you are almost certainly using something which is directly or indirectly descended from UNIX. MS DOS, for example, from version 2.0 onwards, incorporated chunks of UNIX code in order to comply with DOD requirements. The computers in your car probably run Q-OS, also based on UNIX. The list covers almost every processor running code in the world today!

These things are what makes Dennis Ritchie one of those giants upon whose shoulders we stand (see Newton, 1676).


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