back to article Revealed: Why Windows Task Manager took a cuddlier approach to (process) death and destruction

Former Microsoft engineer and creator of the Windows Task Manager Dave Plummer has issued a reminder to all programmers to take care over the imagery conjured up by a quickly typed description. During an Oxford University Address, Plummer told his audience that the Task Manager knobs and buttons did not always carry the text …

  1. Timto


    But, could somebody explain, why does "End Process" never damned-well work?

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      Re: meh

      Because it does no longer kill.

      Kill and Destroy are known computer paradigms that will perform a specific job with a predetermined success rate. When you alter the paradigm, then you alter the success rate. This is where "what's in a name" actually makes the difference.

      Just like garbage collection only works when you are actually working with garbage. Many bits never care about recycling because they do not consider themselves to be garbage. Hence, they stick around. Only a destructive kill would bring them back into the fold.

    2. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: meh


      I have used the (various versions of) Process Hacker over the years (whenever possible, some corporate IT places ban it as their AV* stuff does not like some of its low level behaviour, even though you can get the source code, check its benign and build it from source rather than downloading it! ... could be because it lets you kill just about anything so various processes e.g. AV (that are essentially unkillable with windows task manager) could be killed by it if you so chose).

      I find it far better at killing processes than the default windows task manager

      *AV = anti virus

      1. Boothy

        Re: meh

        Process Explorer from Sysinternals works quite well as well, been using that for many years now. I really like the utilisation graphs, and that you can hover the mouse over the graph, and it tells you what task is was running at a specific point in time. I've found it handy for tracking down intermittent high usage task in the past, that have stopped the high CPU utilisation by the time Task Manager opened.

        Sysinternals of course is now part of the MS family, but they seem to still keep updating the tools.

        1. Danny 2 Silver badge

          Re: meh

          SysInternals still provides a command line PSKILL, unlike Windows. Bizarrelyi t's a larger file size than Process Explorer.

          1. Paul S. Gazo

            Re: meh

            The command you're looking for is TASKKILL, which is absolutely included with Windows.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: meh

      Agreed. I'm Administrator, the computer should not be allowed to tell me "Access denied." My Linux machines don't give me that kind of back-talk, they just haul the process behind the shed and shoot it!

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: meh

        Mine don't even bother to haul them behind the shed. They just get killed where they stand.

        When my daughter was learning to program for X11 she managed to create a child window that refused to die. So I introduced her the the xkill program. Naturally, being the rebellious teenager that she was, the primary thing she learned from the exercise was that she could change her mouse pointer to a skull and crossbones. Which she promptly did.

        Probably get her kicked out of school and/or jailed these days. Sad, that.

      2. jtaylor

        Re: meh

        'I'm Administrator, the computer should not be allowed to tell me "Access denied." '

        That sounds like the difference between superuser and Role-Based Access Control. RBAC has been available in UNIX for a while. In fact, I think grsecurity could be used to do something like RBAC in Linux.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: meh

          My comparison was between being *the* Administrator under Windows (get "access denied" message when trying to kill certain processes) and being root under Linux (process promptly killed). Admin/root access is supposed to mean that the computer is not allowed to tell me "no". ("I can't because x" is perfectly acceptable, but not "you're not allowed".)

          1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

            Re: meh


            Well, which? The UNIX root user, 0, is the omnipitent identity you appear to want but it has no equivalent in Windows. All user-space code runs under a login session that has powers strictly determined by the principals in its token. That's even true for sevices running as SYSTEM.

      3. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid

        Re: meh

        "Agreed. I'm Administrator, the computer should not be allowed to tell me 'Access denied.'"

        My windows machine (I'm the admin) sometimes gives me that kind of back chat when simply deleting desktop icons! Likewise when unable to delete a file that I "own" because an explorer window somewhere is still staring at the containing folder as if expecting something to happen. I don't care if some other process still has it open, I'm the ruddy admin, do as I say!

        I've come to realise that in modern windows, administrator isn't what it used to be anymore. In the old days I could delete C:\windows if I wanted to, heck, I even did when I didn't want to, my fault, I'll take one.

  2. hammarbtyp

    Why so long?

    One of the things I have always wondered about windows is when you hit the shutdown button, what is it doing that takes so long? Sometimes it can be minutes until the shutdown occurs, meaning you have time to make a hot beverage of choice and still come back to see the spinning circle of death.

    Ok, you need to flush buffers, etc, but it feels like the computer is spending its pending downtime transcribing war and peace using a hammer and chisel

    Rather than End Tasks, i would of preferred the "Nuke em" option...

    preferable from orbit,

    just to be sure

    1. karlkarl Silver badge

      Re: Why so long?

      It probably takes a while to upload the last remaining telemetry stored that session to Microsoft's servers. ;)

      If you have some Hyper-V VMs (and perhaps WSL), it needs to suspend all this stuff too.

      Also "shutdown" doesn't really shut down the computer fully anymore. It puts it in a hibernate state so Microsoft can mislead everyone into believing that Windows boots up faster. If you have a lot of RAM, it needs to write this stuff to disk.

      Try a "restart" instead and you might see a speed difference.

      1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

        Re: Why so long?

        > It probably takes a while to upload the last remaining telemetry stored that session to Microsoft's servers. ;)

        It's like with humans, when they perish, their soul gets uploaded to whichever organisation they signed a contract up with.

        1. Aussie Doc

          Re: Why so long?

          That was beautifully put. Have one on the house ------------------->

      2. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

        Re: Why so long?

        I'm a great fan of the hard power switch on the back of my PSU.

      3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: "shutdown" doesn't really shut down the computer fully anymore

        You're talking about a laptop.

        I can assure you that when my tower case shuts down, it's shut down. The PSU is off, no LEDs are shining and even the USB ports are shut off.

        1. ChrisC Silver badge

          Re: "shutdown" doesn't really shut down the computer fully anymore

          "You're talking about a laptop."

          No they're not...

          1. ChrisC Silver badge

            Re: "shutdown" doesn't really shut down the computer fully anymore

            Come on then anonymous downvoters, explain why you think hibernation mode (as specifically mentioned by the previous commenter) or the Hybrid Shutdown/Fast Startup mode that W10 uses by default when you tell it to "shut down" (and which the previous commenter may have actually been referring to), only apply to laptops?

            The PC might be fully powered down, but unless you've tweaked W10 so that selecting "shut down" doesn't perform this hybrid shutdown instead, then the next time you power up the PC and boot into W10, you're NOT booting into the completely clean system that you might assume to be the case given the absence of any power consumption between shutdown and powerup.

            It's not therefore unreasonable to argue that "shutdown" doesn't really shut down the computer fully any more, if you're considering the OS state that will be presented to you next time you start up said computer, rather than the power state that said computer will be in between now and then.

        2. karlkarl Silver badge

          Re: "shutdown" doesn't really shut down the computer fully anymore

          It isn't a suspend. It is more like a hibernate. The machine is completely off but the RAM is stored in a RAM dump file ready to be restored on bootup.

          Some info here:

        3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          Re: "shutdown" doesn't really shut down the computer fully anymore

          But the real time clock is ticking and and can wake up the computer at a specified time. There may well be some kind of wake on LAN feature. If you are not careful, on wake up the OS can load in a full image of the previous RAM state and put itself back into the broken configuration that caused you to shut it down.

        4. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid

          Re: "shutdown" doesn't really shut down the computer fully anymore

          Any computer can go into that state as well, but it might be in hibernation with the operating state saved to the hard disk. All ready for that operating state to be reloaded into ram on power up.

          Note that Windows "sleep"and "hibernation" might appear very similar to the user, but are actually very different - something I've had to explain at work when considering the security implications of sleep vs hibernate.

      4. ITMA Silver badge

        Re: Why so long?

        "Also "shutdown" doesn't really shut down the computer fully anymore"

        Are you talking about "Fast star-tup" on Windows 10?

        Which BREAKS WOL on a lot of PCs because it powers the NIC down totally. Not sure how that is meant to help a PC start fater....

        Especially Dell Optiplex PCs.

        So I ALWAYS disable Fast start-up and Sleep (on desktops).

    2. Snake Silver badge

      Re: Why so long?

      A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, back in the day (Win95!) the shutdown process simply pulled the plug on the hardware. That is, Windows simply shut down the drivers and the kernel, and left the hardware in the as-previously configured state.

      It would be reasonable to assume that this would not present a problem - when you are finished with the hardware, you can simply disconnect.

      Turned out that some hardware did not like that, putting itself into a brain-dead state until it was completely power-cycled.

      So Win95 did an orderly shutdown with the kernel sending messages to each hardware driver that it wished to disconnect. The driver was then responsible for placing the hardware into a shutdown or standby state, then reporting to the kernel that all went as requested. The kernel, only then, disconnected the device driver sockets and proceeded to the next driver.

      Even then, some hardware did not respond as requested. That was the lengthy Win95 'stuck on shutdown' stall that drove everyone crazy.

      Later (sometime in Win98 IIRC) they decided that many (but note, not all) drivers & devices could indeed be killed without an orderly shutdown, so they changed the shutdown procedure to do exactly this. Faster shutdowns ensued, with only occasional hardware hiccups.

      It is reasonable to assume that every Windows after Win98 still takes that same approach: some device drivers are simply killed, leaving the hardware in the previous configuration but this not causing issues. However, some hardware needs to be 'nulled' and the driver sets the hardware as such, only then notifying the kernel to proceed with the shutdown. That, and Win10 now also doing things like applying auto-downloaded patches with possibly flush of temporary install files, updating the Registry on last-minute changes, etc etc etc.

      Also, note that Windows 10 does not really "shut down" when you select Shut Down; Windows 10 features Fast Startup, which actually is a hybrid shutdown that writes some of the system to the hibernation file. The shutdown might be slower due to the write, but it is balanced off with a faster startup as full system & hardware initialization is not required. They figured that most people are impatient to get started, less so when they finish and are ready to walk away, so they rebalanced the two operations towards a faster startup at the penalty of the slower shutdown. Turn off "Fast Startup" for the faster shutdown at the cost of the slower startup.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Why so long?

        " leaving the hardware in the previous configuration but this not causing issues."

        I once came across a system whereby the audio had "failed". Cust had power cycled multiple times, reinstalled/updated the audio drivers and even re-imaged the PC before we got called in to do a hardware diag/fix. For no obvious reason, I just happened to wonder what would happen if I booted a live Linux distro. Sound worked. Re-booted into Windows and the sound worked. Clearly, none of the Windows steps did a proper hardware reset on the audio subsystem but the Linux drivers, most likely open source and written from reverse engineering or somesuch, was doing a proper hardware reset to make sure it was in a known state at start-up. I only ever saw this happen that once, but I still try booting Linux on recalcitrant hardware, not only because "just in case", but It's likely to show failures on some hardware during the boot rather than just crashing with a sad face on the display.

        1. Snake Silver badge

          Re: hardware lockup

          Yes, the worst were output interfaces: audio cards, modems and network cards. Especially during the ISA bus years, they could be a real headache.

      2. ITMA Silver badge

        Re: Why so long?

        "Also, note that Windows 10 does not really 'shut down' when you select Shut Down; Windows 10 features Fast Startup... The shutdown might be slower due to the write, but it is balanced off with a faster startup as full system & hardware initialization is not required"

        Except on a lot of PCs it also completely powers down the NIC.

        "They figured that most people are impatient to get started, less so when they finish and are ready to walk away, so they rebalanced the two operations towards a faster startup at the penalty of the slower shutdown. Turn off 'Fast Startup' for the faster shutdown at the cost of the slower startup."

        And if you manage remote estates of desktops which are affected by Fast Startup powering down the NIC (which is a lot) then, frankly, your buggered if you need to use WOL to do your job as Microsoft have fecked it!

        Unless you disable both Fast Startup and Sleep.

    3. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Why so long?

      Seriously -- Linux shutdown also takes a while. I think (and boy could I be wrong) that both OSes issue some sort of polite shutdown request to all running processes which then close their open files, save cached data that was awaiting an output opportunity, etc, etc, etc. Demons are shut down gracefully. File systems are unmounted -- but you can't do that until processes using them shut down. All that can take a while. And you have to wait for the slowest (and possibly worst coded) process to end.

      ... something like that anyway.

      I invite folks who actually know something about how modern OSes work to straighten out my misconceptions.

      1. Skiron

        Re: Why so long?

        My Chromebook shuts down in about 5 seconds - and my 10 year old notebook running Slackware shuts down in about 15 seconds - I guess you are talking about the Debian variants of GNU/Linux...

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Why so long?

          My 17ish year old laptop running Slackware-stable takes about 7 seconds to shutdown.

          This one, 15 years newer, running the same thing, also takes about 7 seconds.

      2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: Why so long?

        My Xubuntu setup takes an age to shut down because it disconnects the network before trying to unmount the network drives. Nice one, guys.

        1. Down not across

          Re: Why so long?

          Isn't that the kind of thing systemd-cancer was supposed to handle.

          Never had such issue with any of my non-systemd systems, easy enough to reorder things happen at startup/shutdown.

      3. jtaylor

        Re: Why so long?

        "both OSes issue some sort of polite shutdown request to all running processes which then close their open files, save cached data that was awaiting an output opportunity, etc, etc, etc."

        You nailed it.

        A coworker once asked me the difference between "kill" and "kill -9" in Linux. I explained it as if you're on the toilet in a public restroom:

        kill -1 (HUP) is when the cleaner opens the restroom door and calls "Anyone there?"

        kill -15 (TERM) is when the cleaner knocks BAMBAMBAM on your stall and tells you to hurry up

        kill -9 (KILL) is when a great hairy arm reaches over the partition, grabs you by the shoulder, and hurls you up and over, toilet paper and trousers and whatnot streaming behind.

        1. Aussie Doc

          Re: Why so long?

          Thanks for that detailed description.

          As if I didn't need another excuse to avoid restrooms.

          Just in case they come --------------------------------------------------------------------------^^

    4. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid

      Re: Why so long?

      So upvoting this. Also, why so long to boot up? My laptop can perform billions of calculations and transfer 100s of MB to/from the hard disk per second. So really, what in Hades is it doing all this time just to go from off to on or vice versa?

      Serious question, I genuinely have never understood this.

      Annoyingly, it's now the same with the telly. There used to be a golden age about 20 years ago when LCD tellies would turn on in an instant because the electron gun didn't need to warm up. Now, the LCD still comes on immediately displaying the manufacture's logo sorry, advert, but now takes an age to boot up the computer that powers it. I'm getting older and every second counts!

      1. Snake Silver badge

        Re: Why so long on a LCD telly??

        Because today's televisions are SMART tellies. And they actually run Android to power all those smart, connected features, so the Android kernel and apps need time to start.

        But it does make you wonder if the CPU is being put to sleep or shut down completely, with the power systems taking over recover from 'standby' in the latter case. I would believe they would probably choose the CPU shut down, rather than sleep, as it conserves power more and therefore gets things like America's Energy Star rating.

      2. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Why so long?

        Some of those things take computing power, and some of them have enforced delays. For example, doing the hardware checks to make sure that your main components are working must happen first, then the firmware must be loaded and checked, then that must find your disk and check enough of its filesystem that it can boot from it or go on to something else. In each of these basic cases, the individual step is pretty fast, but there are lots of tasks like that. There's also a lot of hardware which needs a driver to run, either on device, in the OS, or sometimes both. Until both run, nothing can use that hardware. This may put some tasks at the mercy of a slow peripheral or driver doing a lot of testing before it launches.

        Then you get to the OS itself. It's just a lot of stuff that needs to be started and load configuration. If it's using half a gigabyte of memory by the time it's presenting you with the login window, it has had to calculate a lot of that first. This is the part you can most easily speed up--if you want something controllable like Linux to boot faster, you can start taking things out of the boot process and it will work--but don't expect that you can make it boot instantly like this.

  3. Zenubi

    Yes - if you have fast start enabled shut down is more or less a version of sleep. That's why memory commits are the same after shut down / power on

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    No feelings were hurt

    That's what I like about the left pondians, so careful about causing offence.

    We renamed the 'release' button to 'deploy' because some people may have abandonment issues and 'release' may be traumatic.

    What does it do?

    It 'deploys' the new Kill Ninja 9000, automatic laser guided child seeking cluster missiles

  5. DrBobK


    They never exposed the real nasty though...

    kill -9 == with extreme prejudice.

    1. bpfh Silver badge

      Re: -9

      #echo "boo" > /dev/kmem would generally also end up with a stop or restart.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: -9

      kill -9 -1

      Best command ever.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: -9

        Nothing wrong will kill -9...

        1. Denarius Silver badge

          Re: -9

          until you have a process that has real hardware open. At best you get a zombie process in the machine, not corner office... Not ghost in the machine unfortunately

      2. jtaylor

        Re: -9

        "Best command ever."

        Back in the day, a coworker introduced me to this quick shutdown on a Sun system:




        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: -9

          L1-A does the STOP-A thing on some Sun keyboards ... Note that doesn't actually shutdown the system, it takes you to the OpenBoot prompt.

          As long as I'm typing anyway:




          is just as fast (no need to reach for L1), and actually halts the system. Note that the second sync isn't necessary, it's an example of cargo-cult programming. The first sync doesn't do anything obvious, so people issue the second sync command just to make sure.

  6. heyrick Silver badge

    it really came down to 'Kill all children, then kill self, and then burn down the rental apartment'."

    Can I please have an operating system that says this, so there's no dumb cuddly language and ambiguity, just an honest to god description of what's about to happen...?

    1. Antonius_Prime

      I'd pay good money to have it narrated by Frankie Boyle, swears included, like you can get the Big Yin on certain SatNavs...

      "Right, so we grabbed th'process and decided to ****in' shove a wee lengthy bit o' knife inty 'em."

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        gdb --begbie

        Right, some &*%$ locked a resource and no &*%$ gets released till we find out which &*%$ locked it.

    2. jake Silver badge

      "Can I please have an operating system that says this"

      Linux BSD and Minix are open source (as are others), so there is nothing to stop you from making it so.

      Has the systemd-cancer taken over the sound system yet?

      Oh, wait ...

  7. Anonymous Coward

    "We were going to take the sharp edges off "

    And now we have rounded corners to avoid to hurt users moving windows around without care?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: "We were going to take the sharp edges off "

      Except Windows break quite often, leaving shards around all over memory.

      Don't cut yourself.

  8. Roger Greenwood

    So, thinking ahead...

    I fully expect Windows 11 to invite an errant process to move towards, and indeed cross over, the rainbow bridge. Awww....

  9. Manglemender

    Hidden in plain sight

    I work in the field of machinery automation and I remember visiting a customer in Italy to conduct an upgrade of some sort. The machine compiled a production report that it spat out on a dot matrix printer at the end of every shift. I guess the original engineer who commissioned the machine some years previously had a falling out with the production manger as ever 8 hours it had been printing out a "W@nker Report"

    Comments in code can be hard to kill off too! The common unit of un-quantifiable things around here is the banana. This stems from a comment I wrote in a piece of "C" code many years ago while struggling to commission a machine in the jungles of Indonesia. I had modified an inertia calculation and added the immortal comment: "Add a banana for good luck!

  10. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


    some of our stuff, the operators could just hit e.stop and then turn off the plant/robot/machine at the isolator before ending the shift....

    When the PC based machines started appearing , it took ages to persude them to do a proper shutdown of the machine from the control interface rather than walking around to the isolator and pulling the nuke lever... why... because the proper shutdown saved all the in use data files to the HDD ready for the reboot... pulling the plug leaves the machine in a indeterminate state because the controls only seem to save to HDD every 10 mins or so....

    Anyone for a 2 foot long tool spinning at 7000 rpm and the machine beliving its a tool only 3 inches long..... and people wonder why I keep a spare set of underwear at work..

  11. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Anyone else remember "Windows for Weegies", which replaced "Yes/No/Cancel" in dialogue boxes with the much more Glaswegian "Aye/Naw/Fuck Off"?

    "My Documents" became "A' ma shite" and "The Internet" became "Porn an' stuff",

    1. Aussie Doc

      Optional sensible title here

      Reminded me of a long time ago I got called to a workplace to fix a "major internet problem".

      I don't remember the details but I think there was an extension able to be installed via a browser that caused every web page you visited to be displayed (text) in 'jive' or some form of pigeon English.

      I seem to (vaguely) recall something about 'fo shizzle my nizzle' or the like.

      Snoop Dog?

      Was absolutely hilarious as folks loaded their pages but, of course, manglement was not amused since folks were having fun but not getting any work done.

      Cider for the fond memories ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------^^^

      1. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid

        Re: Optional sensible title here

        Basically an interface into Google, but translates web pages into SnoopDogglish. Works best on dry, boring corporate statements. Translated output can sometimes be NSFW.

  12. Michael Habel


    [q]Its sworn duty was to defend our honour by scouring the Microsoft source code and its products for pretty much anything that would make us look stupid, unfeeling, out of touch, and so on."[/q]

    Well they did a steller bangup job with Windows ME, Windows 8, the GWX updates, and of late the minimum requriments for Windows XI then.

  13. ThatOne Silver badge

    PC on the PC

    >"Windows was going to be your friend and your confidante, no longer merely a rude adversary,"

    Is he for real? Old Windows were like bannermen in medieval times: Loyalty and dedication more than compensated for the lack of rounded corners and "cool animations". It did what you asked it to, or died trying. You couldn't but respect that (well, I do).

    Later Windows became like slimy used car salespeople: You knew they're going to shaft you, but it would happen around some very polite conversation.

    Well, I guess I'm of that dying breed who cares for efficiency more than for form.


    > "We were going to take the sharp edges off so that nobody got hurt"

    Oh yes, somebody already think of the children millions of victims of Windows' insensitive wording... People crushed in their very essence by Windows' hurtful words like "Do you really want to quit?": ("Why is it questioning my decision?? Am I not capable of taking this level of decision? Doesn't my mother love me? I feel sick...").

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