Dennis Ritchie on C and UNIX

Dennis Ritchie, designer of the C programming language, and co-inventor of UNIX — arguably two of the most influential computer science creations ever — passed away at 70.  As my formative years in computing were highlighted by UNIX and C, I felt a bit of nostalgia as well as gratitude for “dmr”s contributions.  I still think of the original K&R as the best programming book ever – when a colleague told me he was going to write a book on C, I couldn’t understand why – since K&R existed, nothing else need be said!  In fact its conciseness greatly influenced my own writing style – some might say to a fault.  Years later, I used the first edition K&R as guidance for the original DMTF DMI 1.0 spec (sadly, no longer available), which was somewhat ironic that I’d use it for a standards committee document:

When I read commentary about suggestions for where C should go, I often think back and give thanks that it wasn’t developed under the advice of a worldwide crowd.
— Dennis Ritchie

Tonight I spent quite a bit of time reading sections of his Bell Lab’s home page — technical materials and observations that I hope stays up for posterity.  These are important artifacts that brought us to where we are now.

From an operating system research point of view, Unix is — if not dead — certainly old stuff, and it’s clear that people should be looking beyond it.

— Dennis Ritchie, 1990 Summer Usenix keynote speech

UNIX, if you don’t know, is the basis for the software that runs Mac OS X, Linux, Android, iPhones & iPads, and lots of other stuff.  Not too shabby.

Ken Thompson sitting and Dennis Ritchie at PDP-11

Dennis Ritchie on C and UNIX

What comes next after Insanely Great?

I don’t have any personal stories to tell about meeting Steve Jobs.

I’m not a “long-time” Apple user.  But I am acutely aware of the date I would become one: January 7, 2003.  Steve Jobs introduced the 12″ Aluminum PowerBook G4 at MacWorld.  I’m not sure how I knew about the keynote – perhaps because I had an iPod and thought it was great – but that afternoon I found myself watching the QuickTime replay from Apple’s web site, hunched over some Windows laptop.  I’d never seen a SteveNote before, and was hooked by everything about it, and I said “I am switching to the Mac.”  Keep in mind I hadn’t even used one at the time, but I still knew it.

Long story short, while diving into Apple’s worldview can be daunting, it’s been incredibly rewarding.  I’ve learned a lot about how difficult it is to make something appear simple.  I started thinking about software in words like elegance, and started using the word design to mean more than architecture.

The iPod and the PowerBook have long since been retired, obsoleted by newer models.  But I still have them, because they were my first.

Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs.

Apple steve silhouette

What comes next after Insanely Great?