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See Inside December 2011

Computers that Don't Freeze Up

People have to manage their own time. Why can't our machines do the same? New software will keep them humming

JIM HOLT'S SMARTPHONE IS NOT ALL THAT SMART. IT HAS A MAPPING APPLICATION HE USES TO FIND RESTAURANTS, but when he's finished searching, the app continues to draw so much power and memory that he can't even do a simple thing like send a text message, complains Holt, an engineer at Freescale Semiconductor.

Holt's phone highlights a general problem with computing systems today: one part of the system does not know what the other is doing. Each program gobbles what resources it can, and the operating system is too stupid to realize that the one app the user cares about at the moment is getting squeezed out. This issue plagues not only smartphones but personal computers and supercomputers, and it will keep getting worse as more machines rely on multicore processors. Unless the various components of a computer learn to communicate their availabilities and needs to one another, the future of computing may not be able to live up to its glorious past.

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