Dennis Ritchie

With the hype following the demise of Steve Jobs, this news item slipped under the radar, and I only picked up the news that Dennis Ritchie has died aged 70, when I listened to the Tech Weekly Podcast of 19th October this morning. Here’s the opening of the Guardian Obit:

“The American computer scientist Dennis Ritchie, who has died aged 70 after suffering from cancer and heart disease, was one of the co-inventors of the Unix operating system and the C programming language. Unix and C provided the infrastructure software and tools that created much of today’s computing environment – from the internet to smartphones – and so have played a central part in shaping the modern world.”

Read more, Denis Ritchie Obituary, The Guardian Technology, 13th October 2011.

It’s hard to quantify just how big an influence Dennis Ritchie and his colleague Ken Thompson, who together invented the C-programming language in parallel with Unix, have had on the technological world we live in. Safe to say, it’s immense and it’s certainly bigger than anything Steve Jobs, who died a week earlier than Ritchie, has left behind. C (and Unix) are not sexy technologies, but they power the Internet and the Web and the influence of the C-programming language has influenced countless modern computing programming languages. And C itself is still alive a kicking and living on a version of Unix that you are carrying in your pocket! See John Naughton’s review of Dennis Ritchie’s legacy Denis Ritchie: The Other Man inside your iPhone in the Observer of 16th October.

Author: cpjobling

Senior lecturer, College of Engineering, Swansea University