Dennis Ritchie, father of modern computer programming, dies

Ritchie created the C programming language and used it to create the operating system Unix. Both developments underpin modern computing, experts say. Flickr/mrbill

Dennis Ritchie, whose invention of the Unix operating system and programing language C paved the way for the creation of the internet, smart phones, e-banking and modern computer software, has died aged 70.

Ritchie’s former colleague, software engineer Rob Pike, confirmed in a post on Google+ that the industry giant had died after a long illness.

“I trust there are people here who will appreciate the reach of his contributions and mourn his passing appropriately. He was a quiet and mostly private man, but he was also my friend, colleague, and collaborator, and the world has lost a truly great mind,” Pike said.

Unix, which Ritchie co-created with colleague Ken Thompson, was one of the first modern operating systems that was open in design and flexible, and led to the development of Linux and Android and the iOS that are used in the iPod and iPad today, said Dr Mark Gregory, Senior Lecturer in Electrical and Computer Engineering at RMIT University.

Ritchie’s other great contribution, the versatile C programming language, “has pretty much underpinned all the development in software and applications over the last 30 years,” he said.

“His legacy is the rich suite of devices and applications that we use on a daily basis. Everything from televisions to phones, tablet computers, mainstream computers, online e-commerce and banking – all of these things we enjoy on a daily basis stretch back to the work done by Ritchie.”

The work of people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates would not have been possible without Ritchie, said Richard Jones Adjunct Professor at the Australian National University’s School of Computer Science and IT.

“Other people have stood on his shoulders, in the same way that Einstein stood on Newton’s shoulders,” Professor Jones said.

“Most people specialise in operating systems or programming languages. To be able to create the two of them really was the work of genius. Everything that’s happened since then – the internet, the use of computers – has been driven fundamentally by those two developments that he produced.”

“I still have his text books on my shelves.”

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