Dennis Ritchie, father of Unix and C programming language, dead at 70

Ritchie worked with Ken Thompson to create Unix

Dennis Ritchie
Dennis Ritchie, being awarded the National Medal of Technology from President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Dennis Ritchie, the software developer who brought the world the C programming language and Unix operating system, has died at the age of 70.

Ritchie (known by the username "dmr") was part of a dynamic software development duo with Ken Thompson at Bell Labs, which they joined in 1967 and 1966, respectively. Ritchie created the C programming language, which replaced the B programming language Thompson invented.

The two later went on to create Unix, initially for minicomputers and written in assembly language, in 1969, and written in C in 1973. Unix went on to become key software for critical computing infrastructure around the world, though wasn't for everyone.

Ritchie once said: "UNIX is very simple, it just needs a genius to understand its simplicity." Unix , of course, became the inspiration for newer operating systems including Linux and Apple's iOS.

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In fact, Unix supporters are out in force on social media networks this week, making sure that Ritchie's accomplishments are recognized.

Jon "Maddog" Hall, executive director of Linux International, tweeted: "all programmers owe him a moment of silence."

Rob Pike, who worked with Ritchie at Bell Labs, including on Unix descendent Plan 9, wrote on Google+: "He 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."

Many others made mention of The C Programming Language book that Ritchie and Brian Kernighan co-authored and first published in 1978, noting it's still sitting on their bookshelves for easy reference. The book is commonly referred to as K&R in honor of the authors last names.

Ritchie during his lifetime was recognized for his accomplishments many times over. Most recently, he and Thompson won the $600,000 Japan Prize for their work on Unix.

Ritchie and Thompson previously won the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery in 1983, and the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 1998, presented to them by President Bill Clinton. The two also were named Computer History Museum fellows in 1997.

Ritchie retired from Lucent Technologies in 2007. Bell Labs is now Alcatel-Lucent's R&D arm. Ritchie's passing marks the third death of a technology industry giants in the past week. Steve Jobs died last week at the age of 56 and former Motorola CEO and cell phone industry leader Robert W. Galvin died earlier this week at the age of 89.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

This story, "Dennis Ritchie, father of Unix and C programming language, dead at 70" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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