The Preeminent Pair of Programmers:

Who was the greatest programmer, or rather programming duo, ever? Bill Gates and Paul Allen who brought us GW Basic and other treats? Jobs and Atkinson with MacOS? I think we could agree Bill Joy outranks any two of these guys put together, in programming skill. But what about, say Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds, teamed up as they were, in effect, to bring free-Unix to the world? Yet even these names pale before such as Donald Knuth or Stephen Wolfram.

But the answer to the question, greatest programming duo, is surely clearcut, and is none of the above.

Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson

Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson did (in rough order of difficulty and importance):

Of course I admire the choice of utilities, and kernel implementation, but these can be viewed as details which followed automatically once the guiding philosophy was erected and the associated beauty of C and Unix was revealed. It is interesting to note that Linus Torvalds may be more famous than Dennis Ritchie today!! Linus also implemented the Unix kernel in C code, but this is the least of the five achievements given for Ritchie-Thompson (note that I overlook other achievements, like Thompson's work in chess hardware).

Unfortunately C became the victim of its own success. Fortran is used by programmers who find its combination of virtues and foibles just right. Very few Fortran programmers complain about their language: if they didn't like it they'd switch to a language more appropriate for them. The same is true for languages like APL or Forth. Most programmers hate those languages -- but the relative few who do use them, have enormous affection for their languages! My own laissez-faire attitude dictates that I applaud happy APL or Forth programmers whether I ``approve'' of their language or not.

But C and C++ is a different kind of story.

The supreme elegance of C was immediately apparent to many hundreds of master programmers and it quickly took over in universities and Silicon Valley almost to the exclusion of other languages. This meant that thousands of mediocre programmers were compelled to write in C even though it didn't suit their temperament. C is so simple you almost don't need to read a book or take a class to learn it ... and many of the mediocre newcomers didn't. Despite their ignorance, these newcomers were full of eager suggestions for improving on the efforts of Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson.

In a humble attempt to recognize the greatness of Ritchie and Thompson and to protect their achievement from the leveling scourge of mediocrity, I've prepared a little diatribe related to the C language.

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