A priority assigned by the operating system to programs running in a multitasking environment, which is a common mode of operation. The foreground contains the applications the user is working on, and the background contains the applications that are behind the scenes, such as certain operating system functions, printing a document or accessing the network. Upon inspection, users are generally surprised to find all sorts of programs running in the background that they are not aware of because there are often several ancillary programs loaded at startup (see task manager
In a mainframe environment, foreground and background programs can be fine-tuned. In desktop computers, there is less user control over processing priorities or there may be none.