Dennis Ritchie, R.I.P.

by John Derbyshire

If you were a programmer in the early 1980s, you wanted to learn the spiffy new C language everyone was talking about. (And implementing on PCs — I was the proud owner of Borland’s Turbo C, version 1.0, which had so many quirks and wrinkles they were a study by themselves.) The book you learned from was Kernighan & Ritchie’s The C Programming Language. The book, like all the greatest textbooks, was universally known just by the names of its authors, as in: “Mind if I borrow your Kernighan & Ritchie over the weekend?”

Dennis Ritchie did a great deal more than merely co-write that textbook. He actually created the C language, and was instrumental in developing the UNIX operating system. Both C and UNIX have been huge influences on subsequent developments.

Ritchie’s death was announced yesterday. Nobody seems to know the precise date or circumstances. Wikipedia says October 8, for whatever that’s worth. Ritchie had been ill for some time.

So we have lost two of the key figures of the Information Age within a few days of each other, and both before their time. (Ritchie was 70, which nowadays is before one’s time … I hope.)

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