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Dennis Ritchie, C Programmer And Unix Co-Creator, Has Died

Dennis Ritchie is being remembered today as a pioneering computer scientist, the "father of [the] C programming language," co-creator of the Unix operating system and "a 'titan' of the [computer] industry whose influence was largely unknown."

Ritchie, 70, has died. The news was confirmed this morning by Alcatel-Lucent, which owns the Bell Labs where Ritchie worked from 1967 until his retirement in 2007.

ZDnet writes that:

"While the introduction of Intel's 4004 microprocessor in 1971 is widely regarded as a key moment in modern computing, the contemporaneous birth of the C programming language is less well known. Yet the creation of C has as much claim, if not more, to be the true seminal moment of IT as we know it; it sits at the heart of programming — and in the hearts of programmers — as the quintessential expression of coding elegance, power, simplicity and portability."

It adds that "Ritchie designed a computer language, C, that could be quickly and easily moved between different hardware. Programs that were written in C, provided they followed the rules, would then run with little or no modification on any computer that could itself run C."

Then Ritchie and Kenneth Thompson "rewrote Unix in C, giving the operating system the same ease of portability. Programmers could then learn one operating system, one set of tools and one language, and find those skills nearly universally applicable."

Ritchie and Thompson were 1998 National Medal of Technology laureates "for their invention of UNIX operating system and the C programming language, which together have led to enormous growth of an entire industry, thereby enhancing American leadership in the Information Age."

That medal "is the highest honor for technological achievement bestowed by the President of the United States on America's leading innovators."

Alcatel-Lucent has posted video of Ritchie and Thompson talking about their work.

Update at 1:15 p.m. ET. Our thanks to commenter Johnny Truant (Johnny_Truant) for writing:

Those who know C language, NPR senior programmer Jason Grosman tells us, will recognize that play on "the very common Hello World program that almost everyone writes as their first program."

A fitting send off, it would seem.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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