András Puiz on “internal multitasking”

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
October 11th, 2003 • 1:38 am

My Applelust colleague echoes my earlier column on “memory protection for documents” with a new column on what he calls “internal multitasking“, i.e. the ability of a single application to work on several different documents simultaneously.

As he says:

Heck, if I can convert a song to MP3 and burn a CD simultaneously while Photoshop is applying that darn Gaussian Blur, why couldn’t I apply two Gaussian Blurs at the same time instead?! The processor could do it, the OS could do it. But Photoshop can’t. I’m going even further: I can run two copies of Photoshop on the same machine at the same time, and perform those two operations at the same time on the two images I want, so it is physically possible! Why not let one copy of Photoshop do it? Well, because that’s the way it was written.

The thing is, what he describes already exists… It’s called “multithreading” (i.e. multiple threads within a single task or process). And, just by coincidence, today I was using a Mac OS X application that supports it: Martin Hairer’s Amadeus II.

Amadeus II is a sound editing application that supports, of course, multiple sound files open at the same time, but also lets you work on one file while another one is in the process of being edited/modified. For example, today I was just editing a few MP3 files, and resaving them as MP3 after editing them. The “Saving as MP3” process takes a bit of time because Amadeus II has to re-encode the file as MP3, but this process is “attached” to the corresponding document window (as a dialog sheet) and you can work on other files in Amadeus II while the file is being saved as MP3.

Of course, even on a fast machine such as my dual 1.25 GHz G4, the application becomes a bit sluggish, because saving an audio file as an MP3 file is a task that is both processor-intensive and hard drive-intensive. But the bottom-line is that “internal multitasking” is possible in Amadeus II, and can be enjoyed right now.

So, as András says, the core problem is with major software developers such as Microsoft or Adobe. They simply don’t seem to be willing to spend the necessary resources to rewrite their applications so that they are multithreaded and let the user work on more than one document at the same time.

Only pressure from customers like you and me will eventually force them to “see the light”. The problem is that, right now, too many computer users accept the status quo with individual applications regularly becoming unresponsive while a slightly complex computing process is taking place.

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