I just came back from IIT Guwahati and discovered that Dennis Ritchie has passed away
Most people would know of Dennis Ritchie as the person who invented C and Unix. What most folks do not realize is how profound C and Unix were when they were created and what amazing impact they have had on the industry.
Consider this – before C, you had to program directly to the instruction set of the machine you were programming on. Today when most hardware happens to be x86 or ARM, this seems simple, but back then, the variety of hardware was far more. And this hardware was different not just in terms of instruction sets, but also in terms of information representation, memory addressing, etc. Sure enough there were languages like Fortran and COBOL which could do math and data, but there was no general purpose language which could produce programs that could compete in terms of performance with custom code written for the hardware. Writing a portable program, much less a portable operating system was un-imaginable.
And yet, Dennis Ritchie imagined just such a world and invented a highly performant, high level programming language and then used that to write an operating system which could be ported to any hardware. This one change meant that programmers did not have to create a new OS for every new piece of hardware that got thrown at them – they could take for granted a set of tools, calls and programs, as being available and could spend time going up the value chain and doing more interesting things than just re-inventing the wheel. The result was a spurt of innovation and growth which allowed the industry to grow exponentially into a myriad different directions leading to the world we are in.
If you are a programmer, you owe a lot to Ritchie, whether you have ever programmed in C or worked on Unix or not.
[Edit: Bjarne Stroustrup expresses the same sentiment way more eloquently: http://herbsutter.com/2011/10/12/dennis-ritchie/
Most of us are happy to settle for incremental change. People like Ritchie don’t, and that’s what sets them apart.]