Dennis Ritchie, father of C, co-developer of Unix, dies

14 Oct 2011

Left to right: Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie from Bell Labs are awarded the US Medal of Technology from then-US president Bill Clinton in 1999

Dennis Ritchie, who created the C programming language and helped develop the Unix operating system, has died aged 70.

The pioneering computer scientist was born in New York in 1941 and studied physics at Harvard University. He then earned a doctorate in applied maths.

Ritchie joined Bell Labs in 1967 and developed the C programming language in the early 1970s.

It became one of the most-used programming languages of all time and it has had enormous influence on other dominant programming languages, such as Java and C++.

Ritchie also co-developed the Unix operating system in 1969, aiming to create an OS that was easier and more portable.

It was made widely available in 1975 and has since become the foundation for desktop systems, servers and mainframe computers.

Unix’s most widely used variant is open source OS Linux. OS X was also based on Unix origins.

Ritchie also contributed to the Plan 9 operating system from Bell Labs, which was designed as a successor to Unix for research purposes. He also added to the Inferno OS, which is now developed and maintained by Vita Nuova as free software.

He received several awards for his work, such as the Japan Prize and the US Medal of Technology. Ritchie retired from Bell Labs in 2007.

Ritchie died last weekend, though no cause of death has been released.

“Dennis was well loved by his colleagues at Bell Labs, and will be greatly missed,” said Jeong Kim, president of Bell Labs.

“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 Kim.