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Your computer - what is it doing now?

Ever had the experience where you press a key on your computer, and wait, and wait, and wait...? What is the computer doing all this time? Who is the master and who is the servant?

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I had an interesting experience with my computer the other day. My kids were singing and playing the piano, and I thought that seeing as I had a microphone and audio interface to hand, I would record some of what they were doing.

The computer already had a couple of applications running - Dreamweaver and Photoshop - my usual website tools. (My other, dedicated, music computer is totally devoid of such non-essentials, but it takes a while to shift a full Pro Tools rig to the living room.)

I suppose I should have closed down those applications, but hey - a computer is supposed to be multi-tasking these days, and I only wanted to record one track. So I clicked on the Pro Tools LE desktop shortcut. And waited...

I kept on waiting while the hard disk kept spinning and my kids did all sorts of interesting stuff that I was missing. I thought that maybe I hadn't clicked 'hard' enough, so I clicked again. Still nothing...

Eventually though, the Pro Tools LE splash screen came up and I thought I was in business. No such luck though. It was only to warn me that I couldn't run two instances of Pro Tools. Serves me right for clicking twice.

When Pro Tools did actually start, it gave me the helpful and informative message that it had not closed properly last time, therefore I would have to restart my system!!

OK, let's restart. Why is it that Windows computers often take so long to shut down? Well it did take a long time. And although the desktop came back quickly after that, it was ages before it would respond to anything.

Finally I got Pro Tools running, by which time my kids had run out of decent ideas and were creating a spontaneous Stockhausen pastiche on the keyboard.

Between deciding that I wanted to do some recording and actually being in a position to do so took a full ten minutes! A full ten minutes!!

OK, I know I'm breaking the golden rule that one should dedicate a computer to audio and not install anything else on it, and this is clearly a good example of a reason why.

But I have to wonder, while I was sat there waiting... what the hell was my computer doing? I paid damned good money for that device. I own it and I expect it to do as I say. I expect to press a key and something happen immediately. I don't expect it to have 'other business' that is more important.

Just one more example that we have been conditioned (mostly by Microsoft) to have low expectations of the computing experience. The recording appliance seems at this moment to be a long time in coming...

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By David Mellor Monday December 12, 2005
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