This paper presents an architecture for quality of service (QoS) control of time-sensitive applications in multi-programmed embedded systems. In such systems, tasks must receive appropriate timeliness guarantees from the operating system independently from one another; otherwise, the QoS experienced by the users may decrease. Moreover, fluctuations in time of the workloads make a static partitioning of the central processing unit (CPU) that is neither appropriate nor convenient, whereas an adaptive allocation based on an on-line monitoring of the application behaviour leads to an optimum design. By combining a resource reservation scheduler and a feedback-based mechanism, we allow applications to meet their QoS requirements with the minimum possible impact on CPU occupation. We implemented the framework in AQuoSA (Adaptive Quality of Service Architecture (AQuoSA). http://aquosa.sourceforge.net), a software architecture that runs on top of the Linux kernel. We provide extensive experimental validation of our results and offer an evaluation of the introduced overhead, which is perfectly sustainable in the class of addressed applications. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.