A true pioneer passes away... A farewell to Ritchie.

Gene BrenimanOctober 15, 20115 comments

We all have our heroes.  We all have people who were important to our professional developments.  For me, Dennis Ritchie was one of those people.  I was an early adopter of the C programming language.  Back in the very early 80's a friend and neighbor had excitedly shared with me his copy of "The C Programming Language" by Kernighan and Ritchie.  At first I was a non-believer.  I had for several years been a happy and productive assembly language programmer.  With the small systems that I was using, I firmly believed that to do it right, you had to do it as close to the machine code as possible.  Time and experience soon led me to change my mind.  I became a believer.

For years and years, my most valuable resource was a copy of "The C Programming Language" book (K&R C or simply "the white book").  Throughout my career, I have owned and worn out multiple copies of this book.  Even after many readings through this book, I would stumble on to the answer to a problem that had been puzzling me.  I am not a religious man, but this book has been the closest thing to a bible for me and my continuing search to construct the perfect program, system or instrument.  For years I also helped spread the religion, as I bought and distributed copies of the book to all of my employees at the start of large development projects.

More than the book, the 'C' language itself, is one of my day-to-day tools in the practice of my craft.  Once I figured that 90% of my coding was done in C, with the remaining 10% done it assembly language.  Now days, that figure is much closer to 99% in C.  I have only dug deeply into assembly for a small PIC based project and the odd line of assembly to invoke a microprocessor instruction in the extreme low levels of a project.

I get the feeling that I was not alone in my belief that the likes of Ritchie and the others involved in the development of 'C' and UNIX, were true pioneers that touched and influenced many.  C and UNIX were developed in 1969.  Not too many people were directly influenced by this development, but many were by other products and technologies that were enabled, or that followed this development.  In 1981 MS-DOS was developed, heavily based on concepts of UNIX (Sort of a UNIX-lite for the masses - which led up to many different flavors of Windows).  In 1985 C++ was introduced.  And in 1991, Linux was introduced.

Dennis Ritchie left this world on October 12th of this year.  His passing did not receive the same press as Steve Jobs.  I might not have even known it, except that my lovely wife asked if I had seen the write up in the local paper. It is hard to compare the true greatness of people or their work, but I feel that the true spark that inspired so many others was lost with the passing of Dennis Ritchie.  I will now continue to look for my original copy of "The C Programming Language", or one of the many other copies that I have bought or inherited throughout the years.

I bid a farewell and heartfelt thanks to Dennis Ritchie.

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Comment by billp37October 15, 2011
C has a reputation for producing buggy apps. Regards, 'embedded controller forth for the 8051 family'
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Comment by jms_nhOctober 15, 2011
C has plenty of shortcomings, but it was far ahead of its time, and it's the veritable workhorse to fall back on. dmr 1941 - 2011 RIP
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Comment by genebrenOctober 16, 2011
billp37 - I can respect your view point, but I will always believe that compilers do not generally create buggy apps .... programmers produce buggy apps. Furthermore a good programmer does blame his tool. C is a powerful language with little to no protection against those that can not understand it's power.
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Comment by strubiOctober 16, 2011
> C has a reputation for producing buggy apps. Rolls Royce cars have a reputation for being sometimes involved in car accidents To get serious: Ritchie was probably among the few geniuses who conceived some of the most long life standards. Almost nobody talks about Pascal, Modula2 or Forth anymore. But the C standard will probably never die, neither will Unix. Farewell, Dennis, and thanks for the fish.
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Comment by tedmarJuly 19, 2012
May be late to post but recently I stumble here. C is not buggy, programmers are! C was constructed for replacing assembler and, as such, is a low level language with freedom. But freedom always claims for responsibility; C is not for everyone. Thank you DMR for C; all of 'modern' languages comes directly or indirectly from C

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