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October 13, 2011

Computing Pioneer Dennis Ritchie Dies

By Oliver VanDervoort, Contributing Writer

While he may not be as well known as former Apple (News - Alert) CEO Steve Jobs, the passing of Dennis Ritchie means that the technology field has lost a giant. Ritchie, who was 70, is widely renowned as both the father of the C programming language as well as the UNIX operating system. Ritchie passed away last weekend after doing battle with a long illness, and his passing was announced by a good personal friend on the Google (News - Alert)+ social network.

Rob Pike, who is a former colleague of Ritchie’s, is the one who broke the news to the rest of the world. [Ritchie] was a quiet and mostly private man, but he was also my friend, colleague, and collaborator, and the world has lost a truly great mind,” Pike wrote. Ritchie spent the majority of his professional career working at Bell Labs (News - Alert) and it was here that in 1971 he met the man who would help him change the computer world forever. Ritchie and Ken Thompson are widely credited for realizing that the new generation of computers needed a more efficient operating system. Working with other Bell Labs employees the group first launched the UNIX system. 

In 1973, Ritchie and Thompson recorded UNIX using C programming and it was this redesigned language that has become the basis of programming that allowed Apple to become what it is. In essence, there would be no Steve Jobs (News - Alert), without Dennis Ritchie. Linux and the operating system for Mac OS X are both built on the back of that newly encoded operating system. Ritchie is credited as once saying, “UNIX is basically a simple operating system, but you have to be a genius to understand its simplicity.” 

Meanwhile, C has become the second most popular programming language in the world and was the shooting off point for C++ language and the ultra popular Java. While the average citizen may not have been able to pick Ritchie out of a lineup, the creator certainly was honored for his accomplishments in the tech sector. While winning several awards, the culminating prize was in 1999 when he was awarded the National Medal of Technology, along with Thompson under president Bill Clinton.

Edited by Juliana Kenny
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