Dennis Ritchie was a programmer working in the Computing Sciences Research Center of Bell Labs in 1967 when he began his academic research, culminating in the development and release of UNIX in 1971.
From Unix to C
UNIX was originally developed in assembly language, an esoteric programming code that requires programmers to specifically tell the software which bits and bytes need to be shuffled, written, and read. Due to the difficult nature of programming in assembly, Ritchie opted to develop a new programming language, called C. By 1973, UNIX had been completely rewritten in C.
C was even more important than UNIX, in many ways, as it still serves as the foundation of modern computer programming. Languages like C#, Objective C, and C++ are three of the top five programming languages in use today. Without C, you would not be using a computer in the same way that you are now.
Today, both UNIX and C are both in widespread use, particularly in server rooms, where the combination of the two provides unmatched efficiency even by modern computing standards, and in mobile devices, where the same efficiency is used to minimize the size of chips, and therefore, the size of the mobile unit.
Ritchie also dabbled in cryptography, working on some of the earliest forms of digital cryptography with the NSA. In 1993, he received the Turing Award, the highest distinction in the field of Computer Science, for his contributions made to the computing community. In 1998, he was awarded a National Medal of Technology by the White House. In 2011, he was awarded the Tsutomu Kanai Award by Japan.
The Passing of Legends
In the wake of Steve Jobs’ death, Dennis Ritchie’s death seems to pale in comparison, but everything that Steve Jobs ever did was based on the work of Dennis Ritchie. For starters, the Mac OS operating system is based on UNIX, which Ritchie co-developed with several other individuals, including Robert Morris, who passed away in July 2011 at the age of 78. Without UNIX forging the way for personal computer operating systems, the iOS operating system would have never been built.
There’s more than a shared UNIX background tying Steve Jobs to Dennis Ritchie. All of Apple’s applications, from iPad Apps to Mac OSX programs, are written in Objective C, a successor to the C programming language which Ritchie developed.
As one of the pioneers of computing, we all owe Dennis Ritchie a moment of reflection on the vast contributions he made to the field of computing. He may not be a media darling, and you may not have seen the mainstream media cover his death for hours, but his place in computing history is forever reserved.