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October 13, 2011

Dennis Ritchie, Creator of C Programming Language, Unix and Inferno OS Dead at 70

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

The rule of three seems to be in effect. The technology industry in just the last few days has lost three true giants —Apple’s (News - Alert) Steve Jobs, former Motorola CEO Robert Galvin and now Bell Lab’s Dennis Ritchie creator of so much of the software the world runs on.

Ritchie’s death is personal for me. I had the pleasure of briefly working with Dennis and the rest of the Inferno OS team (which included David Leo Presotto, Howard Trickey and Phil Winterbottom at the Computing Science Research Center of what was then Lucent Technologies, Bell Labs (News - Alert)).  It was a bold project that was a real and incredibly forward-thinking challenger to Java that lives on today in Android.

Dennis was not only was the father of the popular C programming language and the widely used Unix operating system but one of the nicest people I have met. I was always tempted to ask him for his autograph, but he was so unassuming I just let it be. He was scary smart yet somehow was able to convey the essence of his work and the team’s work to me in language I could understand and then use in my marketing support of the effort.     

Jeong Kim (News - Alert), president of Bell Labs, wrote in a blog post Thursday that Ritchie was "truly an inspiration to all of us, not just for his many accomplishments, but because of who he was as a friend, an inventor, and a humble and gracious man."

A lot of people have been saying that it is difficult to imagine the world without Steve Jobs (News - Alert) making contributions. I feel the same way about Dennis. It is more than worth the time to Google him and ponder all of the ingenuity that came out of that amazing mind and was realized in capabilities we all take for granted today. 

We should never take for granted the people who are true national treasures. RIP Dennis. You will be sorely missed.


Peter Bernstein is a technology industry veteran, having worked in multiple capacities with several of the industry's biggest brands, including Avaya (News - Alert), Alcatel-Lucent, Telcordia, HP, Siemens, Nortel, France Telecom, and others, and having served on the Advisory Boards of 15 technology startups. To read more of Peter's work, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny
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