The recent passing of a more popular contributor to Internet culture overshadowed the death of one of the most significant contributors to the computing world. While there is no question that Steve Jobs‘ presence had an impact, a few words on Dennis Ritchie seemed more appropriate to me.
Without the contributions of Mr. Ritchie, the current success of Apple’s OSX, LINUX, the Internet and programming in general would be shaped much different…if it existed at all.
He was the creator of the programming language C. UNIX was written primarily using C. Many modern operating systems are still written in C or its more grown up version, C++. It’s hard to say what MAC OSX and MS Windows would look like had the C language not existed and given that MAC OSX is based on UNIX, it’s obvious that it may not exist at all.
I had learned Basic and Pascal in high school, but they didn’t really take. After a long break away from computers, I decided to dive back in and when I decided to learn another programming language, I chose to learn C.
I asked some programming professionals where I should start and they all recommended learning it as it was the foundation of many other programming languages and had the appropriate structure, control, performance and power.
After a few months of learning to write in C, I also started experimenting with FreeBSD and LINUX and quickly appreciated the architectural design of these operating systems. The more time I spent learning, the more I was awestruck by the design and forethought that was put into the system.
It was then that I truly understood not just the genius of Ritchie’s (and others) design, but the common sense of it.
When compounded together, layers of simple tasks could create complex processing environments that were simply bulletproof. The importance of design is critical. That much Steve knew and that’s why his more recent projects were based on UNIX — Darwin to be specific.
An article in ComputerWorld compared the similarities to the story of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. While I think that comparison may be a bit of a stretch, the similarities are striking. Being a huge fan of Tesla, I had similar thoughts.
While I respect the advancements that Jobs brought to our everyday usage of computers, it pales in comparison to the respect I have for the founding fathers of the basic fabric of computers. They laid the groundwork of a new industry and even a new era: the Information Age. I would imagine they are surprised at how far their experiments have come.
I don’t ever recall seeing a primetime news story on Dennis Ritchie, but that’s okay. I can’t imagine he wanted one.