June 1999 Troubleshooting Professional Magazine: More Heroes, and a Trip to Linux Expo

Copyright (C) 1999 by Steve Litt. All rights reserved. Materials from guest authors copyrighted by them and licensed for perpetual use to Troubleshooting Professional Magazine. All rights reserved to the copyright holder, except for items specifically marked otherwise (certain free software source code, GNU/GPL, etc.). All material herein provided "As-Is". User assumes all risk and responsibility for any outcome.

<--Tim   |   Bjarne Stroustrup-->


By Steve Litt
Big votes came in for Ken Thompson, Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie. They are heroes.

In 1996, my copy of *THE BOOK* finally disintegrated. Kernighan and Ritchie's "The C Programming Language", first edition. All the tape in the world couldn't keep together that constant backpack companion, carried for fourteen years. A generation learned C from that book. It's the first place I ever saw the "hello world" concept I use so much today.

I wasn't in the computer industry in the late 60's and early 70's when the real Unix and C action occurred. So let me give you the information I've managed to gather from the 'net. If it's wrong or incomplete, please be gentle with me.

The Multics operating system was developed in the 1960's by an intercorporational group including Bell Labs, MIT and the GE computer department. Among the many outstanding programmers on the project were were three guys from Bell Labs: Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan. Unfortunately, Bell Labs pulled out of the project in the spring of 1969.

Now denied Multics, Ken Thompson looked around and didn't like any available OS. So he rolled his own (sound familiar?). I've seen some documents saying that Dennis Ritchie was in on Unix from the beginning, and some that implied that he came later. Everyone agrees that before long he was involved.

Thompson (and maybe Ritchie) made a kind of "Multics lite", calling it Unics, whose name later changed to the familiar four letter version later. He (they) wrote it in assembler.

Soon after, Thompson wrote a computer language called B, which Ritchie improved, calling the improved language C. In 1973 Thompson and Ritchie rewrote the Unix kernel in C, using the chicken and egg OS/language development model roughly contemporaneous with Gary Kildall's PL/M and CP/M work.

Besides being a programmer, Brian Kernighan is a prolific author, so he and Ritchie literally "wrote the book on" C. Their short, terse book, "The C Programming Language", became the definition of the C language (or at least contained it). Do not confuse that thin first edition with fatter later editions.

Linux is a Unix clone written in C. It wouldn't have gotten very far without Ken Thompson, Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie.

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.