Thursday, October 13, 2011

In Those Days There Were Giants in the Earth

Dennis Ritchie has died. Ritchie bears more personal responsibility than any one else for C and Unix, and hence for their many derivatives. The world would be a VERY different place had he not created these things.

His passing also makes me remember the days when one or two people could change the computer world. Some may argue that is still the case, but I am not so sure. Too much legacy code now. It is harder to take a clean sheet of paper and start over, as Ritchie did.

I love James Grimmelmann's tweet: "Ritchie's influence rivals Jobs's; it's just less visible. His pointer has been cast to void *; his process has terminated with exit code 0." 

(Harvard folks will remember James as a summa undergrad in CS who TF'ed CS 121 three times, having taken it as a freshman, and wrote his senior thesis on quantum computing. Internet lawyers know him as a professor at NY Law School who is the expert on the Google Books copyright case.)

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