Unix and C creator Dennis Ritchie dies

Unix and C creator Dennis Ritchie dies

His influence? It could be too soon to say

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Unix mentor and creator of the C programming language, Dennis Ritchie, reportedly died on 8 October at the age of 70 after a long but unspecified illness.

Ritchie's influence on the today's computing world could accurately be described an incalculable.


Born in New York in 1941, Ritchie was from the generation of great minds that made its mark in corporate years of the 1960s, taking a Harvard degree in physics and applied mathematics to his first important job at Bell Labs in 1967.

Ritchie was a major influence the most famous thing ever to come out of that company, an operating system called Unix. First run up by colleague and fellow computing Ken Thompson in assembly language for DEC’s PDP-7 minicomputer, the pair later wrote the founding document of a software movement, edition one of the Unix Programmer's Manual.

Armed with an operating system that was to change the computing world, Ritchie set about creating C, a programming language that could be used to make system and applications for Unix machines.

It would be flippant to say that the rest is history but at the time it certainly didn’t seem so certain to the modest Ritchie himself. Asked why he toiled so hard to create C and Unix, Ritchie reportedly replied that it "looked like a good thing to do."

The C language was later used as the foundation of an object-oriented C++, which abounds in software to this day and of course Linux can be seen as a descendant of Ritchie’s pioneering brilliance.

In 1983 Ritchie and Thompson were awarded the Turing Award for which Ritchie penned the acceptance lecture, Reflections on Software Research. In 1999, the men also received the US National Medal of Technology from President Bill Clinton in honour of their work on Unix. Earlier this year, they were awarded the Japan Prize.

“He was a quiet and mostly private man, but he was also my friend, colleague, and collaborator, and the world has lost a truly great mind,” said former colleague and Google engineer Rob Pike on Google+, echoing the sentiment of hundreds of condolences offered underneath the announcement.

Ritchie will be remembered as occupying the very top echelon of computing achievement. 

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