As TMC’s Peter Bernstein says, the rule of threes seems to be in effect. First we lost Steve Jobs who transformed the music, movie, computer and mobile markets and next we lost C programming language and UNIX OS creator Dennis Ritchie. The third death was that of Former Motorola CEO Robert Galvin who oversaw the creation of the first “large-screen” (19-inch), transistorized, cordless portable television and the first cell phone among a slew of other important innovations.
As I mentioned yesterday, the C programming language was the fourth one I learned after BASIC, Pascal and PL/1 and what made it unique was its infinite flexibility. All of a sudden a programmer could create dynamic arrays of pointers in a program instead of relying on fixed variables. The language was fresh and outside the box and made a programmer feel like the sky was the limit.
And then there was UNIX which I learned back in 1982 – where it was used to computerize TMC while I was in high school. Using this infinitely flexible operating system I was able to accomplish miracles programmatic miracles and utilities like TAR were so flexible that even though it was designed for tape archiving, years later I used it to back up an aging UNIX system running ZILOG OS onto a 386-based PC.
This OS was a dramatic departure from operating systems which ran on IBM mainframes like MVS which made my skin crawl with its unneeded complexity. In the engineering school of UCONN there was a book which probably weighed 200 pounds filled with ABEND or error codes. I shiver as I recall the pain of digging through that monstrosity over the 48-hour programming marathon I endured to complete my final project in CS 267. In case you are interested we had to recreate a PDP-11 compiler using IBM assembly language.
Surprisingly these three tech visionaries were more related than we may at first realize. You see Ritchie helped create UNIX but it was Jobs who used this OS to build a new computer company NEXT which used the operating system exclusively. Later, it was purchased by Apple and Jobs brought this OS into everything that Apple does – including iOS. This may be heretical to say but UNIX in fact may be just as responsible for Apple’s success as Jobs.
Even more interesting, markup languages which predated the Internet and specifically HTML were first on UNIX systems. Also, the first node on the Internet was a Next computer!
We didn’t lose three individual visionaries, we lost a trio of geniuses who together changed the world from one in which information and communications was limited to fixed locations to one where mobile devices allow information to be accessed anywhere, with virtually limitless flexibility.
So in a way, this trio enabled the Internet, wireless communications, advanced programming tools – and just so much more. Its incredible.
We owe Jobs a debt of gratitude which is beyond calculation but without Ritchie and Galvin’s contribution, the world of tech would have been much worse off.
My condolences to all their families and may they rest in peace.