Thursday, October 20, 2011

The connection between Dennis Ritchie and Steve Jobs

In a recent TechCrunch post, John Biggs said the following:

I think it’s valuable to look back at [Dennis Ritchie's] accomplishments and place him high in the CS pantheon already populated by Lovelace, Turing, and (although this crowing will be controversial, at least until history has its say) the recently-departed Steve Jobs.

Talented people always make use of things that other talented people have done, and Jobs was no exception. There is a direct link between Jobs and Ritchie, since Jobs' NeXT computer ran UNIX under the hood:

NeXT's system software was designed to rival the best offerings of the Macintosh and PC: NeXT used the rock-solid UNIX operating system and added its own elegant, proprietary graphical user interface.

Eventually Apple acquired NeXT, and as a result the current Macintosh operating system is a derivative of UNIX.

The flavor of unix on Apple computers running Mac OS X is called Darwin, and it is closely related to BSD, from which it has evolved. Unlike Cygwin, a unix emulator that can be grafted onto the Microsoft Windows operating system, Darwin is the fundamental core of the Mac OS X operating system. The whole of Mac OS X is thus a superset of unix; the Aqua graphical user interface (GUI) of OS X provides an aesthetically pleasing and functionally elegant mechanism by which the user can control the computer via the underlying unix operating system using mouse clicks in application windows rather than typing cryptic unix commands.

I do not know if Jobs and Ritchie ever met, but the link between the two of them is clear. And I don't mean to elevate Ritchie over Jobs. After all, Ritchie himself was probably influenced by his father, Alistair Ritchie, who had preceded him at Bell Labs. And I can't find any pages devoted to Alistair Ritchie.
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