Dennis Ritchie - creator of Unix and C dies

Dennis Ritchie, father of the popular C programming language and co-creator of the operating system Unix has died, aged 70. Programmers around the world have been paying tribute to one of the greats of their profession.


If you looked at the trending topics on Twitter in India yesterday, the top trend wasn't a Bollywood star or a cricket team but Dennis Ritchie. It probably had a lot of people scratching their heads, but computer programmers in India and around the world mourned his passing.

Dennis Ritchie was the computer science luminary responsible for the C computer language and Unix operating system. He died on Wednesday after a long illness, said Bell Labs. Jeong Kim, president of Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, said:

"Dennis was well loved by his colleagues at Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, and will be greatly missed. He was truly an inspiration to all of us, not just for his many accomplishments, but because of who he was as a friend, an inventor, and a humble and gracious man. We would like to express our deepest sympathies to the Ritchie family, and to all who have been touched in some way by Dennis."

RIP Dennis Ritchie #dmr by Kevin Marks, Some Rights Reserved from Flickr

RIP Dennis Ritchie #dmr by Kevin Marks, Some Rights Reserved from Flickr

Born in Bronxville, New York, on 9 September 1941, Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Harvard University in 1963 with a degree in mathematics, gaining a PhD in physics in 1968. It was at Harvard that he saw his first computer, the Univac 1.

After a period at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ritchie moved in 1967 to Bell Labs where he worked with Kenneth Thompson on Unix. The first of the modern operating systems, Unix was unveiled by Bell Labs in 1973. It paved the way for a number of operating systems including Linux and Apple's OSX.

In the mid-70s, software usually had to be written in a language specific to the computer it was going to run on. To combat this, Ritchie created the C programming language, which meant that software could run on any machine that could run C.

Developed between 1969 and 1973 whilst Ritchie worked at the Bell Telephone Laboratories, C was written to be used on Unix system. Ritchie described it as "quirky, flawed, and an enormous success." It has become one of the most widely used programming languages of all time and has influenced a number of other languages, notably C++ and Objective C, which are used to programme mobile apps for devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

Ritchie was the head of Lucent Technologies System Software Research Department when he retired in 2007. He received a number of industry awards, including the 1983ACM Turing Prize and the 1998 US National Medal of Technology.

The tech world reacts

Programmers and technology journalists around the world paid tribute to Ritchie.Jon "maddog" Hall wrote on Twitter:

Dennis Ritchie, Creator of the "C" language and co-xreator of Unix is dead at age 70.....all programmers owe him a moment of silence.

Hall wrote a longer tribute for Linux Pro Magazine. He said that like a lot of "a lot of really great people in the field, he died without a lot of fanfare". Apart from close friends and family, news of Ritchie's death came out only days after his passing last weekend. Hall found out about Ritchie's death from a post on Google Plus by his longtime colleague, Rob Pike. You get a sense of the impact of Ritchie's death from Hall, who wrote:

I wanted to blog about it last night, I found I could not, so I waited until this morning. I sit here typing with tears streaming down my face.

Coming so soon after the death of Steve Jobs, many drew comparisons between their contributions to technology.J.D. Long, who describes himself as an economist and stochastic modeler on Twitter, said:

Dennis Ritchie was the engineer/architect who's chapel ceiling Steve Jobs painted.

Sean Gallagher wrote on Ars Technica:

Ritchie has shaped our world in much more fundamental ways than Steve Jobs or Bill Gates have. What sets him apart from them is that he did it all not in a quest for wealth or fame, but just out of intellectual curiosity.

If you're a programmer, how did you remember Ritchie? How do you rate his impact on your work and life?


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