Happy Dennis Ritchie Day! (It’s the day before Halloween, so we decided to leave the spooky dog in the picture.) Here’s the close up:
Ritchie, who died this October 12th, was a pioneering computer programmer who had an exceptionally good sense of taste and an instinct for where to invest it. Collaborating with colleagues (something his career was notable for), he designed long-lasting systems that programmers could get things done in. He helped create both the Unix operating system — which, depending on how you look at it, either is or is inside today’s GNU/Linux, FreeBSD, Macintosh OS X, and many other environments that you probably interact with all the time — and the C programming language, which is still the lingua franca for systems programming more than thirty years after its first release.
Some other appreciations:
- On Dennis Ritchie: A conversation with Brian Kernighan by Andy Oram
- Dennis Ritchie’s legacy of elegantly useful tools, by Mike Loukides
- a memorial by Ritchie’s collaborator, Rob Pike
Unix was the first operating system I really learned, and it’s what I’ve been using ever since (Debian GNU/Linux now, after various other Linux distributions starting from 1992). C was my first programming language. My copy of Kernighan and Ritchie’s “The C Programming Language” (always called simply “K&R” among programmers) is probably the most well-thumbed book I own, and looks it. I can’t really imagine what the computing universe would be like without Ritchie.
Maybe this is something Ritchie wouldn’t have celebrated. After all, whatever computing environments he first learned in, he clearly was able to imagine something else. Perhaps the best way to honor his contributions is to retain the ability to imagine something else, and to act on it when the time feels right, as he did.
Rest in peace, Dennis Ritchie.