Don't make me wait

In 1988, when I arrived for my first day of work at BYTE, I was shown to my cubicle. On the desk was an IBM AT with two megabytes of extended memory. DOS extenders were just coming into vogue, and the ultimate DOS extender -- Windows 3.0 -- was still 18 months in the future. What to do with all that extra RAM? I installed OS/2 1.0. To have a multitasking and multithreaded operating system, right on my desktop, for my own personal use, seemed an incredible luxury. There weren't any native apps yet, and the Presentation Manager GUI wasn't available, so the benefits were purely theoretical. But it was fun to imagine what the future would bring: a system that was always responsive, and would never make me wait.

Fast forward 15 years. I'm dividing my time about equally among Windows XP, Mac OS X, and Red Hat 8 -- three state-of-the-art, robust, pre-emptively multitasking, multithreaded operating systems. All are running on machines hundreds of times more powerful and capacious than that antique 286 box. The dream has come true, right? Well, sort of. Lately, I've noticed that all three systems have a tendency to On Windows, the Radio UserLand CPU Monster has made an unwelcome reappearance. (Until I can figure out what's happening, I've started bumping down RU's priority.) On the Mac, it seems that Mail is the major culprit. On Linux, I suspect GNOME. In all three cases, I seem to be increasingly interrupted by CPU spikes and disk chatter. What's up with that?

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