In the early 1970s, he was an integral part of two technological breakthroughs: C, a cleaner, less demanding programming language that created the grammar for modern languages like C++ and Java; and Unix, a workbench operating system that opened new possibilities for programmers. At AT&T’s Bell Labs, Ritchie was the chief developer of C and used it to write Unix.
Unix moved to the forefront of computer technology when it was licensed to universities, private companies and the U.S. government. Its philosophy of stringing together many simple software tools made it more pliable than earlier operating systems.
Unix was also a precursor to the open source movement. Bell Labs freely distributed its source code, a kernel with which programmers around the world experimented. Linux, a Unix derivative first written in Finland in 1991, is widely used as an operating system in servers, data centers and supercomputers, and as a platform for operating systems developed by Google and Apple.
Today, little programming is done without the touch of C or Unix. While there was no widespread melodrama surrounding Ritchie’s demise, he is mourned by family, friends and those whose work is indebted to his critical contributions.
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