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Monday, 24 October 2011 09:57

FOSS luminaries ignore Ritchie's passing

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Twelve days ago, the computing pioneer Dennis Ritchie was found dead at the age of 70. News of his demise was broken to the world by a former colleague, Rob Pike, who worked alongside him at Bell Labs.


Given that Ritchie was not a great self-promoter, the degree to which people have taken notice of his passing has been much less than that of Steve Jobs, a known show-pony.

What is really sad about this lack of acknowledgement is that many people and writers who do recognise events that are newsworthy in the field of computing have turned a blind eye - or else issued something that's similar to weak tea.

Take Richard Stallman, the head of the Free Software Foundation, for example. Stallman has much to thank Ritchie for; were it not for the C programming language that Ritchie developed, Stallman would not have been able to create any of the GNU tools that he did, in his quest to create a free operating system.

Stallman had time to comment on the passing of Steve Jobs. Yet, to date, neither him nor anyone else at the FSF or the GNU Foundation have said a word about Ritchie.

The Linux Foundation, that august body dedicated to fostering the growth of Linux, has plenty of technical expertise to draw on. Yet all that it could do was to ask a marketing person to write something. Amanda McPherson has her strong points, no doubt, but she could hardly be expected to do justice to a man of Ritchie's greatness.

Another prominent person in the Linux community who, more or less, has ignored Ritchie's death, is Jonathan Corbet, the editor of Linux Weekly News, a site which claims to be "dedicated to producing the best coverage from within the Linux and free software development communities."

Yet all that Corbet could do when someone like Ritchie passed on was to provide a link to Pike's three-line entry in Google+. Corbet accepts outside contributions and has at least one writer on staff; obviously writing a tribute to Ritchie was not one of his priorities, not till today at least.

Linux is 95 per cent C - and Corbet is well aware of this fact. Some acknowledgement of the debt that is owed to Ritchie would have been in order.


Prominent tech journalist Brian Proffitt is another who has been found wanting. Proffitt is someone who has impeccable news sense, yet did not file anything to ITWorld for which he currently writes.


A former editor of Linux Today and a very good one at that, I'm not sure why the death of Ritchie did not come up on his radar.

Another prominent open source writer, Steven Vaughan-Nicholls, has been silent as well.

The great loudmouth of the open source community, Eric S. Raymond, has had nothing to say about Ritchie either. Of course, he didn't miss Jobs' death.

Some, like veteran technology journalist Robert X. Cringely, have offered excuses as to why they did not write anything - Cringely says it was because he did not know Ritchie personally. Instead, he invited others to offer their recollections of Ritchie and, given his (Cringely's) popularity, attracted some 80 comments, including one from the great Bill Joy.

Of course, the excuse of not knowing someone personally does not wash.  A journalist has often to write about people he or she has never met - and the best thing to do in the circumstances is to ask others, who know or have met the person in question, to contribute. As I did.

Or one can obtain background material - there is plenty of material about Ritchie on the web - and write something. Open source journalist Joe Brockmeier has done this and made a pretty good fist of it.

But for people, such as those I've mentioned, to stay silent when a man of Ritchie's eminence passes is shameful.

(Thanks to Steve Jenkin for the idea.)


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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