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The loss of a great man

This month, we lost one of the greatest technologists in generations. From humbling beginnings (and working with two other great men) he helped push the boundaries of computing possibility. His contributions ultimately helped breath life back into an ailing Apple Computer, brought us more powerful devices, better software, converted the Internet from a clunky hobbyist’s toy to the communications platform we know today, and reworked the infrastructure of telephone, television and even filmmaking.

Hands up anyone who thought I was talking about business magnate Steve Jobs.

No, I’m talking about Dennis Ritchie. Along with Brian Kernighan and Ken Thompson, he developed the C programming language, and and the Unix operating system, both of which went on to become the most pervasive and important developments in software and operating systems in our history so far. The principles in that language and that operating system have gone on and both evolved and underpinned almost every major computer language and software operating system since.

They’re used in military systems, they switch telephone calls, run medical equipment, power mobile devices, run satellites and consumer appliances. C and Unix were the computer revolution that you probably don’t even remember.

But take the time to think about the men, each of whom was at least as important to the technology industry and to your lives as Steve Jobs – and quite probably more so. They made the technologies that Jobs sold possible, these three men. They were, perhaps, not the only three men who could have, but they were the three men who did.

Next time you look at any device running any electronics, remember that Ritchie, Kernighan and Thompson laid the foundations that helped make it what it is.

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Categories: Opinion, Technology.

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