Red Hat Takes Its Hat Off to Dennis Ritchie

October 14, 2011

by Tim Burke, Vice President Linux Engineering

It is with sad hearts that the Red Hat community mourns the passing of computing pioneer Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie. Dennis Ritchie was the principal designer of the C programming language and co-developer of the Unix operating system, working closely with Ken Thompson, his longtime Bell Labs collaborator.

Many of us have a proud history of involvement in the UNIX operating system well before the emergence of Linux. To the UNIX world, Ritchie and Thompson were as influential as Linus Torvalds is today to the Linux community. Unix and C's direct and spiritual descendants cannot be counted, but include Linux, Android, Mac OS, iOS, JavaScript, C++, the genius of the internet, and a planet of developers. The major impact of UNIX is not so much in the elegant code itself but rather in the culture of sharing work across industry and academia that became UNIX’s hallmark. Prior to UNIX, operating system code was locked in corporate vaults – inaccessible to the masses. UNIX flung open these doors by allowing code to be shared among software engineers across the nascent computer industry, ushering in an unprecedented wave of collaborative development – and, at the same time, liberating many applications from being locked into a single proprietary hardware vendor.

UNIX code was also shared with universities where it became the foundation of the learning and advancement of operating system practices. Similarly, the C programming language became a staple of the computer science classroom. Many of us literally grew up in Dennis' technical shadow and still have his book, The C Programming Language, co-authored with Brian Kernighan and more fondly referred to as K & R, on our shelves. It remains a source of inspiration and practical help to programmers to this day.

Most of what we do is heavily influenced by Dennis’s outstanding contributions – both in the technical arena and as a founder of the concept of community development. We at Red Hat look with awe and reverence on his legacy.

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