Operating system pioneerDennis Ritchie

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As the son of a Bell Labs scientist, Ritchie naturally fell into technology, and earned degrees in physics and applied mathematics at Harvard. He joined the Bell Labs Computing Sciences Research Center in 1967, and while there had a massive impact on computers: he created the still-ubiquitous “C” programming language, and worked with Bell colleague Ken Thompson to develop the Unix operating system. The idea: to make operating systems more simple and “portable” — rather than dedicated to a specific machine. The idea was a smash hit: Unix (or its offshoots, such as Linux) still runs most of the servers on the Internet, and is the basis for the Macintosh’s operating system, as well as Android smartphones and millions of other devices. “When Steve Jobs died last week there was a huge outcry, and that was very moving and justified. But Dennis had a bigger effect, and the public doesn’t even know who he is,” laments Rob Pike, who worked with Ritchie for 20 years at Bell Labs, and now works at Google. “Pretty much everything on the web uses those two things: C and Unix. It’s really hard to overstate how much of the modern information economy is built on the work Dennis did.” Ritchie and Thompson were given the Turing Award in 1983 for their development of generic operating systems theory, and for the Unix operating system. And in 1999, President Clinton awarded them the National Medal of Technology. Dr. Ritchie died October 8, at 70.

From This is True for 9 October 2011