Had I written this article a couple of days ago when Dennis Ritchie actually passed away, you probably would have heard it here on SlashGear first. As it stands, there have been quite a few publications that have taken notice since, and I applaud them for it. The reason I find it perfectly poetic that Ritchie’s death won’t strike nearly as many people directly in the heart as did Steve Jobs’ is that Ritchie’s masterpieces were both code-based, and like any designer of great things meant to work in the guts of products, it’s the greatest compliment of all for someone to use one of these products never having to touch or look at the code even once.
If you design a billboard that noone can remember, but whose product they’re all suddenly craving without relent, you’ve done your job. If you’re a creator, an inventor, a scientist like Dennie Ritchie and you’ve worked to create two computer-based inventions like the C programming language and the Unix Operating System, and people use your creations every day of their lives without thinking twice about it, you’ve done your job. The first (and perhaps only) time many people came in contact with UNIX on the surface was the film Jurassic Park in the following classic scene:
The character Lex Murphy hits the computer with the quote “it’s a UNIX system, I know this” followed by some quick clicks (since clearly, as one clever YouTube commenter put it, ” I am familiar with this operating system. That means I completely understand any proprietary security system software written for it within seconds of looking at it.”) The same isn’t true in real life, Lex would never have been able to navigate the security program you see on the screen simply because she’d worked with the operating system before, but the point is that the creators of the movie thought UNIX to be such a forward-thinking OS that they included it in the film for future generations.
In fact UNIX is still in use and has had a major impact on the computing world as we know it. There’s an open-source version of UNIX out there that you may have heard of, too, called Linux. Data centers at Google and Amazon run on Linux, and operating systems like Apple’s iOS (for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch,) are built on Linux.
EDIT: I’ve been corrected by our good friend DrBob! Hear what he’s educated us all on in some well-nutshelled sentences below – thanks DrBob!
Mac OS X (and Darwin) came from Apple’s purchase of NeXT (NeXTStep, OpenStep) in 1996/97 itself a BSD UNIX, based on the Mach microkernal created by Avi Trevanian, there is no Linux in Mac OS X or iOS whatsoever. The confusion commonly arises because folks think that Linux means UNIX, it does not. Linux is a knock-off of UNIX, not the other way around. In fact, Max OS X is one of the very few true, certified, UNIX distributions in the works. There is no such thing as a UNIX certified Linux, and since there is a constant influx of hem made code, there never can be. Linux apps that are well written an UNIX compatible can run in Mac OS X, but the reverse is not true.
Ritchie built UNIX with his longtime Bell Labs collaborator Ken Thompson, and other former Labs partners of Ritchies have been vocal about his contributions to the modern world of technology:
“The tools that Dennis built — and their direct descendants — run pretty much everything today,” said Brian Kernighan, computer scientist at Princeton University and former collaborator with Ritchie at Bell Labs – via NYT
Ritchie’s creation of C, similarly, was made with developers and professional programmers in mind, made for them to work more productively as they coded in this relatively simple to learn and utilize set of characters. At the moment, C is one of the most commonly used programming languages in the history of the world. C inspired C++, a language with application domains that include such gems as Microsoft Windows. Essentially any computer you can see in the room with you right this second has an architecture with a C compiler. For the lay man, that means there’s C everywhere.
The short story: Dennis Ritchie, a man who took part in creating the very brain langue or inspiration for the brain language essentially ALL your devices run on or with, has passed away. Fire up a program in his honor. The image used at the head of this article comes straight from Bell Labs and is entitled “An amusing photo”, noting “Ken (sitting) and me (standing), both with more luxuriant and darker hair than we have now.” – per mister John Holden. Rest in peace mister Ritchie, your legacy will live on forever.
Chris Burns is currently head editor for SlashGear and executive editor for Android Community. Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he's responsible for editorial decisions made for the USA-based day-team of SG and AC and he uses an iPad 3 as a VCR. Follow him @ t_chrisburns and inside Google+ at http://chrisburns.co/+ for tech, gadget, and design news galore.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SlashGear