Friday, October 14, 2011

rm -r /usr/dennis/richie

It is with sadness that I learnt today of the death of one of Computer Sciences iconic figures. Dennis Richie (seen in the photo wearing the stripy sweater) was pivotal in the development of two important elements of the modern computing landscape back in the 70s, the C programming language and the UNIX operating system.

Back in 1980, I remember endlessly studying the famous "white book", Kernighan & Richie's "The C programming language" in my first programming job, learning about curly brackets, null terminated strings, stacks, heaps and pointers (concepts programmers these days typically don't have to worry about!) Published in 1978, that book introduced something that is now part of our lingua-franca the idea of the "hello world" program, copied in pretty much every book and article about programming written ever since. The core of the UNIX operating system, that quintessential hackers paradise, was written in the C language and a lot of the utilities and shell environments also used C-like conventions. Not many people program in C these days it was largely superseded by it's object oriented descendent C++ however the legacy of Richie's work remains strong in millions of servers used by billions of people throughout the world and of course, in the memories of old hacks like me.

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