Multitasking



 

 


One way to increase the efficiency of our computer technology is to use those otherwise wasted clock cycles by multitasking.

All of these wasted clock cycles are not the fault of your hardware. They used to be caused by the fact that the original operating system, DOS, was designed in such a manner that it could only perform one task at a time. DOS was designed that way because the original IBM PC, back in 1981, was developed using some invalid assumptions. One of those assumptions was that the PC would be used in a single-tasking environment; that is, it would be turned on at the beginning of the day, run one program all day, and then it would be turned off at night. If the PC was on the desk of an accountant, it would run an accounting application all day long. If it were on the desk of a financial analyst, it would run a spreadsheet. If this PC were on the desk of a secretary, it would run a word processor all day long. There was no basis in these assumptions to provide a multitasking capability – that is the capability to run more than one program at a time.

Today’s computers are far more powerful and today’s operating systems are far more capable. Virtually all of the personal computer hardware and operating systems available today are capable of multitasking. Multitasking is the ability of the computer — but not people — to perform more than one task at the same time.

People don’t multitask, but computers do. Any person who tells you that they are multitasking are incorrect. People can only do one thing at a time, despite trying to drive and text at the same time. Computers can multitask. But we still use only a fraction of the computing power available in our computer systems.

Typical Tasks

In fact, even though your computer and its operating system are multitasking from the moment it boots up, the background tasks required to manage a multitasking environment today still take only a small fraction of the available CPU resources available on even modest computers. Those tasks include such internal tasks as the following.

  • Memory management
  • Network communications
  • Managing processes, i.e., programs
  • Managing the hard drives and other Input/Output (I/O) devices such as the keyboard, mouse, display, printers and so on.

We humans may have several programs running at a time, such as a word processor, an email program, a spreadsheet, perhaps a file manager and a web browser. But those programs usually do little or nothing until we give them instructions by typing words into the word processor or clicking on an email to display it. The computer still waits for us to catch up to it.

Linux Better at Multitasking

Multitasking

And Linux, being far more advanced than Windows, can multitask in ways that Windows cannot. For example, Linux can also download and install its own updates automatically while performing any or all of the above tasks simultaneously—without the need for a reboot.

Wait . . . what?!

That’s right. Linux does not need to reboot before, during or after installing updates or when installing new software.

After a new kernel is installed, however, you may wish to reboot the computer to activate it, but you can do it whenever you want and not be forced to reboot four times during an update.

Multiuser

The multitasking functionality of Linux extends to its ability to host multiple users—tens or hundreds of them—all running the same or different programs at the same time on one, single computer.

Windows is not even remotely capable of this type of functionality.

Supercomputers

Linux powers the fastest supercomputers in the world. About 95% (476) of the top 500 computers in the world run Linux of one form or another. There are specialized distributions of Linux designed especially for supercomputers.

Supercomputers are very fast because many different calculations can be performed simultaneously. It is, however, very unusual for a single user to have access to the entire resources of a supercomputer. Usually, several users share those resources, each user performing his or her own set of complex calculations.

Human Factors

Most humans cannot truly multitask. We typically start one program, work on it a while, then launch another and work on it. Many people do not even grasp the fact that they don’t have to end one program to start another when they could just launch the second, or third, or fourth, program and work in the ones just launched.