Dennis Ritchie Essay, Research Paper
While at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Dennis Ritchie, along
with Ken Thompson, developed the UNIX computer operating system for minicomputers.
He later developed the programming language called C, which has become a
virtual standard in the microcomputer/workstation marketplace.
Dennis Ritchie was born on Sept. 9, 1941 in Bronxville, New York. After
doing undergraduate and graduate work in physics and applied mathematics
at Harvard University, Ritchie joined Bell Labs in 1968.
In the mid-1960s, Bell Labs entered into a partnership with Honeywell,
General Electric, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
to develop an operating system for a large computer that could handle
up to a thousand simultaneous users and could run 24 hours a day, 365
days a year. Ritchie and Ken Thompson were involved in the design from
the Bell Labs side. Unfortunately, none of the companies had a computer
that could handle the development of their program. Eventually, Bell Labs
was convinced to buy a $100,000-plus PDP 11/20 by promises from Ritchie
and Thompson that their group would develop a word processing system for
the lab. In 1969, Ritchie and Thompson gave the lab their word processing
program, but in the meantime managed to develop the UNIX system, which
was their ultimate goal all along.
UNIX was a major advance in computing, giving users features and functions
unavailable before. In addition, it was simple and proved that a small
operating system could be portable, machine independent, and affordable.
It had a profound impact on the development of DOS, the Mac OS, Windows
NT, and other operating systems.
In 1972, Ritchie created the C programming language and, in 1973, Thompson
rewrote the UNIX operating system kernel in C. The enormous popularity
of C in the computer industry has resulted in it becoming virtually the
standard programming language in the microcomputer/workstation market.
UNIX, because it is written in the C language, is more portable—less
machine-specific—than other operating systems. In 1976, Ritchie and
Thompson realized that this portability was a breakthrough. UNIX could
be used on any machine and clients were no longer required to use the
operating system that came prepackaged with the hardware they bought.
This was a radical change at a time when every computer and its operating
system were inseparable. By 1977, more than 500 sites were running UNIX.
As head of Bell Lab’s Computing Techniques Research department,
Ritchie continued to work on operating systems during the late 1980s and
early 1990s, including Bell Lab’s Plan 9. Plan 9 is UNIX’s answer
to competition from other operating system technologies like Microsoft’s
Windows NT. It contains much of the technology that was left out of UNIX,
such as networking and distributed computing. Despite its name, which
is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the campy cult film "Plan 9 from
Outer Space," Plan 9 is a serious endeavor that combines some of
the best technology and engineering talent in the industry.
Awards and Books
In 1988, Ritchie was inducted into the DATAMATION Hall of Fame in recognition
for making a major contribution to information processing and its corollary
technologies. In 1989, PC Magazine recognized Ritchie with its
Lifetime Achievement Award for Technical Excellence. In 1994, Ritchie
was a recipient of the Computer Pioneer Award from the International Electrical
& Electronic Engineering (IEEE) Computer Society. In addition, he
is a Bell Laboratories Fellow.
In 1971, Ritchie and Thompson wrote the UNIX Programmer’s Manual
and in the early 1970s Ritchie co-authored The C Programming Language
with Brian Kernighan.
Dennis Ritchie remains at AT&T (under its new name – Lucent Technologies,
Inc.) as head of the System Software Research Department, where he is
working on Bell Lab’s latest offering, Inferno. Inferno is a mini-operating
system that lets anything from workstations to set-top boxes to hand-held
devices access interactive communications and entertainment services.
Kopf, David "Inferno: Fiery New Network OS, or Just
More Hot Air" America’s Network, June 1, 1996
"The 20 Most Important People" Byte, September
Spafford, Eugene "UNIX and Security: The Influences
of History" Information Systems Security, September 1, 1995
Lee, J.A.N. "IEEE Computer Society Awards Presented
at 1994 Supercomputer Conference" IEEE Annals of the History of Computing,
Patrizio, Andy "Bell Labs Hopes Plan 9 OS Gains a
Cult Audience" PC Week, April 10, 1995
"UNIX" Microsoft ? Encarta, Funk & Wagnall’s
"C (computer)" Microsoft ? Encarta, Funk &
Wagnall’s Corporation, 1993
Garfinkel, Simson L. "Programs to the People"
Technology Review, February 1, 1991
Machrone, Bill "Lifetime Achievement" PC Magazine,
January 17, 1989
Ritchie, Dennis "What Lies Ahead" Byte, January
Runyan, Linda "The Datamation Hall of Fame"
Datamation, September 15, 1988