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Operating System Process Monitor Tools

     Each major operating system, whether it be Windows, Macintosh, Linux or Unix has its own task manager.  Some operating systems may also refer to the monitor tool as an activity monitor, as with Macintosh’s operating system (What is Activity Monitor (or How to Take Your Mac’s Pulse, 2012).
     On my Windows 7 Home Premium operating system, I have access to the Windows Task Manager.  I can access this various ways, but the two common ways are to press Ctrl+Alt+Delete on the keyboard or right-click on the Windows Task Bar and click on “Start Task Manager”.  The Task Manager is a very useful tool because it helps me understand what applications are running (in the Applications tab and also see what processes are running in the Processes tab.  One may only have a few applications running but could have dozens of processes running because there are background processes running for the operating system, quick start applications and more than one process could exist for a particular application, for instance, multiple tabs being open in the Chrome web browser that would display multiple “chrome.exe *32” instances.  Sometimes, an application does not properly shut down and still runs in the background and by going to the Processes tab and arranging the processes image names in descending order and sometimes also the descriptions in descending order, it is easier to see which applications are running.  The description helps me get a better sense of what program an image name belongs to.  Other times, I may go to the Performance tab and get a sense of the current CPU Usage and Memory usage and if they are high, I might go back to the Processes tab and sort by Memory.  If I do not need certain programs to be open/running, I will close them to help reduce memory and CPU usage to allow the O/S and other programs to run faster.  If you are using a network card in your PC, laptop or other device, you will also see data in the Networking tab.  The Users tab disiplays information on who is currently logged in to your system and provides administrative functions such as logging a user off, etc. (Task Manager Overview, 2012).
     A web site called TaskList.org has a very useful database that lets you search by process names if you are not sure what a specific process does and if you might also be concerned about whether the process is attributed to a virus or other potentially damaging program.  I searched for “explorer.exe” and found it interesting the site mentioned this core operating system process could potentially be a Trojan virus if it is not located in the correct folder (TaskList.org, 2012).
     Macintosh systems as I mentioned earlier use a tool called Activity Monitor.  The tool is similar to Windows’ Task Manager but is somewhat more intuitive (in my opinion) and offers more functionality (i.e. a “Disk Usage” tab and more information within the various areas of Activity Monitor).  In the CPU screen, two types of memory usage are displayed beside each of the processes – real memory and virtual memory.  Real memory describes the actual memory found in your system (what you would see if you took your devices case off for instance and looked at the motherboard).  The virtual memory is temporary memory that uses spaces on your hard drive to help real memory work more effectively through the use of swap files (What Is Activity Monitor, 2012).  The disk usage tab would be a nice feature to have in the Task Manager utility on my Windows machine, as would the two types of memory usage reporting.  It would help send a strong message for me to clear more space on my primary hard drive if necessary.  The Mac’s activity monitor also has a nice color-coded memory visualization tool in the System Memory tool that helps one understand how much memory is being used, how much is free and among other details, swap space being used (The Mac Task Manager, 2012).  If the “swap used” indicator is very high, that would be an indication that one might want to upgrade their physical memory, if possible or upgrade to a new system supporting more memory.
     Also worth noting is how Linux and Unix present CPU process information to the user.  This can be done using the “top” command and various parameters allow the user to display specific information they are looking for.  If a user was interested in seeing all threads for instance, they could use the top -H parameter.  The user can also run the commands in secure mode via the “-s” parameter to prevent conflicts when using interactive command prompts Linux/Unix Command: top, 2012).  If you are looking to read a bit more about the Unix/Linux top command, there is also a nice page documenting this at http://www.unixtop.org/man.shtml.  You do not necessarily need to type “top” and the various parameters/options to gather most basic CPU process information as it appears one only needs to type the top command which will list the first 30 processes being used (Unix Top, 2012).  While this command certainly offers many features, having used the O/S GUI for over sixteen years now, switching to the command line utility for process information would be a difficult switch in that it would have a high learning curve.  However, in reviewing the various top command options, I do not see any core information the command would not present over the Windows and Mac task/activity monitor methods.  While I understand a GUI used by many Linux and Unix systems exists that displays CPU processes (Red Hat Enterprise 3: Introduction to System Administration, 2012), it would be nice to enable that tool to present the same options as the top command does while being supported by a good UI design for the additional functionality.


Linux / Unix Command: top. (2012). Retrieved April 14, 2012, from

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3: Introduction to System Administration. (2012). Retrieved April 14, 2012, from

TaskList.org. (2012). Retrieved April 14, 2012, from http://www.tasklist.org

Task Manager Overview. (2012). Retrieved April 14, 2012, from

The Mac Task Manager. (2012). Retrieved April 14, 2012, from

Unix Top. (2012). Retrieved April 14, 2012, from http://www.unixtop.org/man.shtml

What is Activity Monitor (or How to Take your Mac’s Pulse). (2012). Retrieved April 14, 2012, from

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