Counting Down

So who’s the third? That’s what I asked God this week. There’s been a long standing superstition that the deaths of the famous come in threes and that’s what was behind my question.

Last week the world in general, and the computer world, in the somewhat more specific, mourned the passing of Steve Jobs. While he was only fifty-six, it still wasn’t a surprise, wasn’t a shock; the five year survival rate for the form of cancer that he fought was dismally low, so it was almost certainly a question not of would it be soon, but of just how soon. Probably more than anyone else, Steve is responsible for the look and feel of modern computing. But when you get past the surface and instead get to what all those computer programs look like on the inside? Well, that owes an awful lot to Dennis Ritchie, and this week it was Dennis Ritchie that passed away.

He was seventy. So, like Steve, it’s not a big shock. Still, in the world where I make my living he was a giant, and when giants pass, you notice.

With Steve’s passing I can take solace in knowing his legacy lives on. Today the new iPhone goes on sale. I’ll hold it in my hand and know that its look, its feel, and its interface owe an incredible debt to Steve Jobs. Unlike most of the millions who’ll get one in the coming weeks, though, I’ll look at mine and know that it’s Unix inside, that it’s Unix that is part of its elegance, part of its power, and that that side of it owes an incredible debt to Dennis Ritchie.

Rest in Peace, Dennis, you made the world a better place.

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