Computer Pioneer Dennis Ritchie Dies

Dennis Ritchie

Ritchie, center, accepts the National Medal of Technology from former President Bill Clinton.

Last week Dennis Ritchie, the co-creator of UNIX, died — and hardly anyone covered it.

Ritchie lived quietly — he wasn't the showman that Steve Jobs was — and apparently he died quietly, too. While working at Bell Labs in the late ‘60s Ritchie wrote the C programming language with Brian Kernighan. He then used it to create the UNIX operating system with fellow programmers Kernighan, Ken Thompson, Douglas McIlroy and Joe Ossanna. It wasn't the first operating system, but it is arguably the best.  While the others have passed out of existence — except Windows, which many of us hope will pass out of existence — UNIX lives on.

UNIX’s most endearing quality is that it’s stable: It rarely crashes. It’s also fast (designed and written for maximum efficiency), comprehensive (it’s powerful and can be made even more powerful through the addition of modules) and easy to upgrade (due to its modular nature you don’t have to rewrite and redistribute the operating system every time you want to make a change).

When UNIX moved from the shareware world to the commercial world and became unaffordable to many consumers, a young programmer named Linus Torvalds stepped in and rescued it by recreating it as open-source free software — a tribute to UNIX’s elegance and power and its importance to the computer world and the people in it. In 2002 the folks at Apple wisely realized they could never create a better system, so they trashed their operating system and rebuilt a new interface to UNIX — what we now call OSX.

From the start, the UNIX operating system has been the main operating system used in most of the servers at the core of the Internet. So here's to Dennis Ritchie, without whom it's hard to imagine the Internet as we know it.

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