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Daniel Eran

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The Apple Wishlist: Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard
2. Process control and notification services
As operating systems become more sophisticated and complex, knowing what applications and processes are running, being able to control them, and getting feedback on events all become increasingly important. This second Mac OS X Leopard Wishlist article describes ideas for process control and feedback services.

There are lots of significant and fundamentally broken parts of the Windows architecture, but there's also features from Windows that Mac OS X could benefit from or expand upon. To see examples, lets take a quick look at Mac and Windows process control, and see where Mac OS X has borrowed from Windows, where it is ahead, and what it can learn from Windows.

Back in the days of the classic Mac OS, you could only see what applications were running by checking the application menu. If there were any faceless background applications running, you probably weren't supposed to know about them anyway. If a process or application died or stopped responding, the only option available was to try to catch it as the foreground application and do a force quit, which often crashed the machine.

Windows users got a similarly poor representation of what applications were active, but at least they could resort to hitting alt+tab and cycle through all their open windows using an onscreen display. Windows users are also familiar with using the Task Manager, which comes up as an option after typing ctrl+alt+del. Windows responds immediately and provides a very satisfying way to immediately find and kill a runaway process, or perform "End Task" on an unresponsive application.

Features borrowed from Windows
Mac OS X inherited an improved version of the NeXTSTEP Dock, which shows at a glance which applications are running. Apple borrowed the option+tab convention from Windows for cycling through open applications, and added a separate option+tilde command for cycling through the open windows of the current application.

That's a useful distinction because in Mac OS X, an application opens multiple windows. In Windows, it isn't clear or consistent among applications whether an application is a window (as with evil MDI apps), or an application has spawned several windows (like Word or Outlook), or several windows related to an application are actually separate processes (as is possible with Explorer).

Mac OS X also introduced command+option+escape, which (similar to Windows), brings up a Force Quit menu listing open applications that can be shut down. Force quit is also available by option clicking on the application's Dock icon. Neither the Dock nor the Force Quit menu show background processes, however.

Tucked away with the other utility applications is Activity Monitor, which allows a user to see every process currently running, its process ID, and how much CPU and RAM it is using. Activity Monitor can also display a hierarchal view that shows which processes have launched other processes. This same information is available from the command line using the top or ps commands.

Activity Monitor is similar to Window's Task Manager, although in Windows, processes all run at the same level, so there is no idea of hierarchical child processes as in Mac OS X.

What Mac OS X can learn from Windows: process control


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