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Tribute to Dennis Ritchie

Updated on October 16, 2012

Dennis Ritchie Remembered as a Computer Pioneer

The programming world was shocked to hear of the passing of Dennis Ritchie on October 12, 2011. His impact on the entire world was substantial but unknown to the vast majority who received benefit from his work. Similar to Steve Jobs, Dennis Ritchie was a visionary who was able to advance technology with his work. Dennis, however, was as much out of the public eye as Steve was in it. It has been noted that without Dennis Ritchie, Steve Jobs could not have thrived.

Dennis Ritchie developed the C programming language in 1969 while he worked at Bell Labs. This application building tool allowed incredible flexibility as it could be used for any purpose from financial accounting systems to games to device control. Languages prior to C, such as COBOL, were designed to accomplish specialized tasks, like currency tracking, but were completely unsuited to other purposes. Other languages, such as Assembly, were able to perform more general tasks but required great amounts of labor to develop, test and implement complete applications. C bridged the gap and allowed application designers to accomplish any task with a good level of productivity.

Dennis Ritchie clearly envisioned that the world required a programming language that was easy to learn, allowed programmers to be productive and would run on practically any computer that could be invented. The language compiler itself was written in C which allowed new systems to support C much quicker than other programming languages.

C, like most programming languages, is written as English text files containing particular instructions that have meaning to the C compliler. A very small C program text file might look like this:

#include "stdio.h"

main() {

printf("Hello World");

}

This program displays the words "Hello World" on the computer screen when it is run. The language compiler reads the text file and translates the specialized English words into computer instructions. There is a minimum of preparatory work for the computer programmer, compared to many other programming languages.

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Dennis Ritchie worked with Ken Thompson and Brian Kernighan at Bell Labs. Together, they developed both the C programming language and the UNIX operating system for computers. In more than 40 years since the advent of these tools, millions of computers have used tools developed in whole or in part by Dennis. The impact of his work cannot be underestimated.

Dennis Ritchie's Book Available at Amazon

This is the quintessential C programming reference. Named "K and R" in honor of the authors, (the first letter of their last names). This book is a mixture of knowledge, anecdotes and humor. Since C is the basis or inspiration of many other languages, reading this book can give programmers an understanding of how many technical languages work. This is often extremely useful even if someone is not intending to use C.

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Dennis M. Ritchie

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