One of the co-writers of Unix and C, computer boffin Dennis Ritchie has died after a long illness.
His death was announced by his chum Rob Pike, co-creator of the Plan 9 and Inferno Oses, on Google+ who said Ritchie was a quiet and mostly private man, and the world has lost a truly great mind.
According to Notable Biographies, Ritchie went to Harvard University. There he studied science and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics. He became fascinated by a lecture on Harvard’s computer system, a Univac I, which led him to think that computers rather than psychics were the way forward.
While still at Harvard, Ritchie got a job working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he worked to develop, alongside other scientists, more advanced computer systems and software.
He got a job at Bell Labs when it was the nation’s main phone provider and it had one of the best labs in the world.
Ritchie began working with Kenneth Thompson, who had joined Bell Labs in 1966. Both men had been watching how the minicomputer was becoming popular in the early 1970s. What was needed was a better operating system and so they created Unix.
Unix was cheap and simple, and it could be used on just about any machine, which meant buyers were not stuck with the cumbersome software that came with their computers. They could buy and install a variety of software systems, and Unix was compatible with the lot.
Unix was written in machine language, which had a small vocabulary and did not deal well with multiple computers and their memories. So Ritchie came up with C. By 1973 Ritchie and Thompson had re-written Unix , using C instead of machine language.
He was awarded the Turing Award in 1983, and the National Medal of Technology in 1999 for his efforts.
James Grimmelman observed on Twitter: “His pointer has been cast to void *; his process has terminated with exit code 0” which is startling like the Dead Parrot sketch – only he added that “Ritchie’s influence rivals Jobs’s; it’s just less visible.”