“I got this note from John Ritchie, Dennis’s brother”

From Rob Pike

Dear Rob–

As Dennis’s siblings, Lynn, John, and Bill Ritchie–on behalf of the entire Ritchie family–we wanted to convey to all of you how deeply moved, astonished, and appreciative we are of the loving tributes to Dennis that we have been reading. We can confirm what we keep hearing again and again: Dennis was an unfailingly kind, sweet, unassuming, and generous brother–and of course a complete geek. He had a hilariously dry sense of humor, and a keen appreciation for life’s absurdities–though his world view was entirely devoid of cynicism or mean-spiritedness.

We are terribly sad to have lost him, but touched beyond words to realize what a mark he made on the world, and how well his gentle personality–beyond his accomplishments–seems to be understood.

Thank you.

And this from Rob’s Google+ page (partial quote, go to his page to see the whole thing):

I was warmly surprised to see how many people responded to my Google+ post about Dennis Ritchie’s untimely passing. His influence on the technical community was vast, and it’s gratifying to see it recognized. When Steve Jobs died there was a wide lament – and well-deserved it was – but it’s worth noting that the resurgence of Apple depended a great deal on Dennis’s work with C and Unix.

The C programming language is quite old now, but still active and still very much in use. The Unix and Linux (and Mac OS X and I think even Windows) kernels are all C programs. The web browsers and major web servers are all in C or C++, and almost all of the rest of the Internet ecosystem is in C or a C-derived language (C++, Java), or a language whose implementation is in C or a C-derived language (Python, Ruby, etc.). C is also a common implementation language for network firmware. And on and on.

And that’s just C.

Dennis was also half of the team that created Unix (the other half being Ken Thompson), which in some form or other (I include Linux) runs all the machines at Google’s data centers and probably at most other server farms. Most web servers run above Unix kernels; most non-Microsoft web browsers run above Unix kernels in some form, even in many phones.

And speaking of phones, the software that runs the phone network is largely written in C.

But wait, there’s more….

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2 thoughts on ““I got this note from John Ritchie, Dennis’s brother”

  1. I always wonder whose passing will get more attention a century from now. Certainly Jobs made shiny things that did exactly what they were supposed to do (and not one iota more) but to create the language that damn near every computing system is based on and get almost no recognition is sadly a commonplace occurrence. Think of the passings of Mozart, Van Gogh or Tesla. Nobody seems to have noticed then, but a hundred years later, they are considered luminaries. And for every Tesla, there is an Edison – more a businessman than an inventor who receives the accolades for both in his lifetime. History has a way of setting things right, but long after it is too late to make any difference.

  2. I got to see Dennis give a talk at the University of Victoria back in the late 80s or early 90s. I can attest to the dry humor. He was a great speaker, and it was hilarious.

    One of the best parts was when he put up a slide containing some C from a very large corporation. I seem to recall some hints that it was from IBM, but could not swear to that. He covered most of it with a sheet of paper, and then simply kept uncovering more lines of code. The ‘joke’ would set it, everyone would laugh, we’d think it was over, and he’d uncover more WTF.

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