Homage to Dennis Ritchie
Posted by Balachandran on October 14, 2011
Dennis Richie(dmr), the father of the C language and one of the co-founders of the UNIX passed away on 8th October, 2011. And that came a few days after the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. The news of Dennis Ritchie’s death was a big shock, and saddened me to a great extent. I thought I must pen down a homage to this man who contributed so much to technology as we know today.
To start off with, he gave us the C language. He is the ‘R’ of the famous ‘K&R’ C programming book, the ‘R’ stands for Ritchie. That book has been used over and over by people across the world to learn C.
And, he was one of the founding fathers of UNIX. To make sure that people understand the importance of UNIX, everything from GNU/Linux, *BSDs, iOS(yes, the iPads, iPods and all such stuff), and most likely MS Windows has taken at least something from UNIX.
And the C programming language, which has been in high demand and use since its day one, has been the basis for lot of new languages that were developed in later years. Though it might lack a string API, C, which came it existence in 1969, has almost all features that is needed to create a High-Available, Mission critical applications. C++, Java, PHP, Perl, and may be Python are a few languages that owe a lot to C. And most parts of the Linux kernel, most UNICes are implemented in C. So was the impact of the creation of dmr. C might be dreaded by many; It might be easy to make mistakes in C; But still, there is a kind of beauty that is associated with the language. And that, is something that I love
Death, be it to anyone from a most wanted criminal to a sadhu/sanyasi is sad and so were the deaths of Steve Jobs and Dennis Ritchie. But I have never been a big fan of Jobs. He was a CEO, who ran a company that created products that were bought by a lot of people. And true, the devices from Apple have excellent user interfaces. But what he did was to inspire his team to create such products(either through threats or excellent leadership qualities, I don’t know which). I really don’t know if he personally invented any of the technologies that his company owns. Another thing about Jobs is that he had a mad desire for patents and Apple under him file lots of law suits based on patents. On the other hand, Dennis Ritchie was an out and out technology guy. He wrote a new language, that is among the most popular if not the most popular. He wrote the first ever popular operating system. Yet, he was never after patents. He firmly believed that it should be open(mostly because there was no such thing called proprietary those days). What pained me a lot in Ritchie’s death was that there was absolutely no media coverage. He passed away on 8th October, and the world came to know about it(mostly) from a Google+ message that Rob Pike(his fellow colleague who worked on UNIX) shared. Not even slashdot made a news entry until 13th October. But, for Steve Jobs, there was extensive coverage in all sections of the media. There was a first page article in the news paper that I read regularly. And that paper hasn’t yet reported dmr’s death. I can understand if the common man doesn’t know Dennis Ritchie. But if the media, which tries to go as techie as possible, doesn’t know/report Ritchie’s death, it really is painful.
He gave a lot of things. As Linus once said, it is one the shoulders of giants like Dennis Ritchie that the present day world stands. And he is definitely among the tallest of those giants. He was someone who was at the very center of the changes that gradually has the brought the computer-related technology to what it currently is. If not dmr, someone else might have found another new language, Yes. And likewise, if Ken Thompson and Ritchie had just worked on the “word processor” which was their assigned task, we might not have had UNIX, but someone else would have come up with some other OS. But the world would most probably be much differently from what it currently is. Thanks for all your contributions DMR. RIP.