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Dennis Ritchie Day

October 29, 2011

Tim O’Reilly admits freely in a recent blog item that he doesn’t have the authority that California Gov. Jerry Brown has (and that’s OK, Tim — few of us do). A while back, Brown declared Oct. 16 Steve Jobs Day, and while O’Reilly writes that he admires Brown for taking a step to recognize Jobs’ extraordinary contributions, he “couldn’t help be struck by Rob Pike’s comments on the death of Dennis Ritchie a few weeks after Steve Jobs.”

Most of us were struck by them, too.

Clearly Dennis Ritchie’s contributions in the digital realm far surpass Steve Jobs’ vision or marketing acumen. While Jobs made a career of molding people’s use of technology and, in the process, garnered him the tech spotlight (for better or worse), Ritchie worked in relative obscurity to bring us the foundation of what we all do today, both in programming and how we use computer hardware, online or off.

So allow me a Captain Obvious moment: We owe a significantly larger debt of gratitude to Dennis Ritchie than we do to Steve Jobs. So with Tim O’Reilly and everyone else who’s interested, I’ll be celebrating Dennis Ritchie Day tomorrow, Oct. 30, and I would urge you to remember the man who brought you Unix and C.

My SCALE 10X colleague Lori Waltfield points out an interesting page with quotes from Dennis Ritchie (and more quotes here) that may come in handy for tomorrow’s observation of Dennis Ritchie Day. Thanks, Lori.

Spread the word — #DennisRitchieDay.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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  1. November 14, 2011 at 12:29 am

    I have read many comments similar to yours comparing Ritchie’s and Jobs’ contributions, but don’t agree that Jobs is so much less significant than Ritchie.

    To begin with, I own copies of three books co-written by Ritchie. I am programming in C for a living, and have never run anything but a Unix variant on any system I own. I have never purchased an Apple product.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure that IBM would have been inspired to create the original PC without the Apple II. Without the IBM PC, we would never have had Linux.

    I’m not sure that without the iPhone, Google would have been inspired to create Android. Does anyone think that OpenMoko inspired Android? It’s possible that Maemo played a role too, I concede.

    The influence of Apple on UI design has also been profound. Last week I heard Larry Tesler speak at PARC about his invention of “cut and paste”, a software facility we take completely for granted. Tesler started that work at Xerox, but he brought it to successful creation at Apple. The cut-and-paste case is an example of an Apple contribution that is so profound as to be almost invisible.

    I believe that Jobs was as significant as Ritchie, and in so saying, I intend to take nothing away from Ritchie. Unlike Ritchie, Jobs had a well-known dark side and took many positions I disagree with, but that does not detract from his importance.

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