Writings of a techie wizard
Fri, 14 Oct 2011
Amidst all the news about Steve Jobs' passing, you may not have heard that Dennis Ritchie, creator of the C programming language and one of the original designers of Unix, also passed away this past weekend. The news first broke on the Internet through this post from Rob Pike on Google Plus. Pike later followed up with another Google Plus post giving a longer tribute to Ritchie and his work. Tributes to Ritchie have also appeared in the New York Times, on Wired, by way of CNN Tech (including the classic photo of Ritchie and Ken Thompson, the founders of Unix, working on a PDP-11), on BoingBoing, in The Register, on Tim Bray's blog, and on Herb Sutter's blog. Finally, this follow-up Google Plus post by Rob Pike is worth a quick read, since it quotes from an email Pike received from Ritchie encouraging him to pursue a programming project that turned out to be important in the history of Unix.
I don't have much to add to what you'll read at the above links, but I do want to comment on the headline of the Wired/CNN story: "Dennis Ritchie: The shoulders Steve Jobs stood on." Jobs, and pretty much everybody else who uses a computer. Ritchie created the C language, as the story notes, "because he and Ken Thompson needed a better way to build UNIX." But it turned out that the feature of C that enabled that, the fact that it was "portable" between different types of computer hardware, turned out to be a better way to write almost all programs, not just Unix. C is now the foundation of pretty much every piece of software in existence; if the software is not written in C directly, it's built on top of something that is. (My personal favorite language, Python, for example, is implemented in C.) The story quotes Brian Kernighan, another key figure in the development of C, as saying, "There's that line from Newton about standing on the shoulders of giants...We're all standing on Dennis' shoulders." I'm glad Wired and CNN recognized this and gave Ritchie his due.
I shouldn't end without mentioning Ritchie's page at Bell Labs, which has links to many of his writings. If you're a programmer, or even if you're not, they're worth reading.
Sat, 08 Oct 2011
Unusually for me, this post will be almost entirely links to and quotes from articles by others. But I should explain briefly why I'm linking to them and quoting them. It's not to set the stage for my own comments about Mac OS X, or about iPods and iPads and so forth. I made comments about OS X in an earlier post, and there's no need to rehash them here. Nor do I have any personal anecdotes to share. My reason for linking to these articles, and quoting briefly from them, is, quite simply, to draw attention to what they say.
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