Dennis Ritchie vs Steve Jobs

Two titans of the computing industry passed away recently.  Each respected for very different reasons, each with a very different philosophy on computing and life.

Dennis Ritchie, the father of C and Unix, was responsible for developing the operating system and language which underepins almost every machine which matters in the world.  With no C, despite your own personal views, there would be no Objective-C, no C++, no C# and no Java.  Programmers, computer scientists and anyone with any attachment to a computer owes this man a drink.  The man was quiet, quite reserved, and I think this reflected in his work.  There will be people the world over quietly raising a respectful glass in his honour.

Steve Jobs was a visionary,  driven by a desire to commodotise and make the things computers can do accessible.  With no Steve Jobs, I am pretty confident that certain areas of user interface design and product design would be at least a decade behind where we are now.  Jobs’ lasting legacy is not the products that he’s introduced, but the ideas.  It’s surprising to see the effect Apple’s rising has had on other producers in the industry, switching from a “good enough” viewpoint to consumer-centric.  Whether intentional, he did build a cult around himself and became worshipped by customers, worshipped by others in the industry and worshipped by fellow engineers.  When he passed away, there was a global out cry, and scenes of fans out-pouring their grief over what they saw as their loss.  This was also appropriate in its own way.

There have been complaints that Ritchie’s accomplishments were greater, his legacy larger, and yet his death passed relatively unnoticed by the mainstream media, and that this was unjust while the death of Jobs was plastered for several days across the major news channels.  The people who will mourn Dennis Ritchie genuinely appreciate his contribution to the industry, and will know it every time they use a tool he has influenced, be it mobile phone, desktop, server, programming language or toolchain.  People grieve for different people in different ways.  Both will be missed.  Jobs and Ritchie will be remembered for different reasons, and the way they will be remembered will reflect that.