BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Dr. Dennis Ritchie, who played a major role in in the development of personal computing by creating the UNIX® Operating System, passed away in his Berkeley Heights home last week at the age of 70.
“Dennis was well loved by his colleagues at Bell Labs, and will be greatly missed. He was truly an inspiration to all of us, not just for his many accomplishments, but because of who he was as a friend, an inventor, and a humble and gracious man,” said Jeong Kim, President, Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs.
Earlier this year Dr. Ritchie and co-developer Dr. Kenneth Thompson received the prestigious Japan Award honor for developing the UNIX® operating system and the C programming language significantly advancing computer software, hardware and networks over the past four decades and facilitating the realization of the Internet.
“Dennis and Ken changed the way people used, thought and learned about computers and computer science,” said Kim. “The UNIX system and the C programming language have revolutionized computing and communications, making open systems possible.”
After receiving his Masters in Applied Math at Harvard, Dr. Ritchie began working for Alcatel Lucent back in 1968 when the company was then called Bell Telephone Laboratories. “It was the first time that microcomputers were being produced that could be used by a department within an organization,” he said in an interview in back in May. “We scraped our budget money together and bought one for our department for $60,000.”
But Ritchie and his partner Thompson were not satisfied with the computer processed files “The development of the UNIX system was in some sense selfish because we wanted to build an easier way for us to use the computer,” said Ritchie. “Ken started designing the structure and how the files would be laid out on a blackboard over three weeks while his wife was on vacation and that was the basis for the system.”
In tandem, Ritchie began modifying a computer language called B language, named for Thompson’s wife Bonnie, into a more fluid language called C language that could be used in different types of computers. “For the first time we had a system that did not rely on other machines to compile programs for us,” he said. “And I am most proud of creating system that could be used on different types of computers which really changed the way that we used them.”
UNIX is still used today as the operating system of most large Internet servers, businesses and universities, and a major part of academic and industrial research in operating systems. The C programming language is prized for its efficiency, and has since spread to many other operating systems, becoming one of the most widely-used programming languages for both system software and applications. UNIX was also a driving force behind the development of the Internet and a later edition led to the advent of an “open source” culture.
Ritchie won numerous awards for his work including the U.S. National Medal of Technology, the Association for Computing Machinery Turing Award, the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal, and the IEEE Emanuel Piore Award, and was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. For more on Dr. Ritchie’s accomplishments visit www2.alcatel-lucent.com/blogs/corporate/tag/dennis-ritchie/.