The genius of Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie

How many pieces of technology developed 45 years ago are now more popular than ever?

I thought about this while running some UNIX shell commands in Linux (based on UNIX), which I am running as a alternate operating system on my Chromebook to ChromeOS (based on UNIX). So I picked up my iPhone running iOS (based on UNIX) to write this post, which I will put on Facebook, which runs on UNIX-based servers. Some of my friends will read my post on their Android phones, which run an operating system based on UNIX. Others will read it on their Macintosh computers, which run an operating system... based on UNIX.

And the really amazing thing here is that the work of Thompson and Ritchie endured several decades of ridicule before becoming the most ubiquitous piece of software in the world. And the reason for its success is intimately connected to their humility: instead of believing that they knew everything a user would want and building it into a monolithic operating system, they built a minimal framework within which it was very easy to add your own tools. They crowd-sourced the development of their operating system well before anyone had invented that term.

5 comments:

  1. What were they ridiculed for?

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    1. People didn't really cool them, but UNIX itself. It had too few built-in features, was too hard to get the hang of, was just for nerds. Largely the very things that ultimately led to its triumph. ("Hard to use" really translated to "easy for programmers to use," which ultimately led to those programmers building smooth, simple user interfaces over the UNIX core.)

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  2. Well, what about Windows? That's the most common desktop operating system and it's not UNIX-like.

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    1. What about it, Samson? Did I claim Windows did not exist or something, or that UNIX is the only OS in the world?

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    2. Or maybe you are saying that Windows is a more widely used OS than UNIX-like OSes? If so, you might look up the facts before posting: Android users ALONE vastly outnumber Windows users.

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