In this article you will find some background information about screensavers and their history. You will also learn how Windows screensavers differ from other programs and how you can use it to your own advantage. There are also some tips for screensavers users owning laptops, notebooks or CD-burning devices.
Have you ever asked yourself a question like "What is a screensaver actually?" I did. And now I will gladly share results of my investigation. As you can see easily, splitting word "screensaver" into two words will give us phrase "screen saver". This isn't a rocket science and it's clear that phrase suggests our subject somehow saving screen. So word "screensaver" can be applied to some sort of good things that save screen of our so much beloved baby-computer. But what does it mean exactly? Who is going to harm our computer's screen? Who could be such a bad person? The answer lies in exact definition of screensavers.
If you are a meticulous person then you can search Internet and come up with some of existing definitions. But don't hurry. I will list some of most often found. Here they are:
- A moving picture or pattern that appears on your screen when you have not moved mouse or pressed a key on computer for a specified period of time. Screensavers prevent screen damage that is caused when same areas of light and dark are displayed for long periods of time.
- A program that "wakes up" after a certain amount of time has elapsed with no keyboard or mouse activity and blanks screen or displays various moving objects across screen; these are used to prevent your screen from getting "burn in".
- An animated picture or graphic that can be programmed through Display control panel to come on computer screen after so much inactivity time has elapsed. The main reason for a screensaver is to reduce wear and tear on CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) inside monitor that can burn out or become etched if same window is left on for extended periods of time.
The picture is getting clearer, isn't it? Let's make it plain. The "burn in" or "damage" used in these definitions refer us to time before 90-ies. At that time many cathode ray tubes in TVs, computer monitors or elsewhere were prone to be damaged if same pattern (e.g., WordPerfect status line; Pong score readout; or a TV channel-number display) was shown at same position on screen for very long periods of time. The phosphor on screen would "fatigue" and that part of screen would seem grayed out, even when CRT was off.
TIP: Be careful when using a screensaver on a computer with an LCD screen (most laptops and notebooks). A pixel on an LCD screen is on when it's dark; therefore, blacking screen as some screensavers do would cause more damage.
Eventually CRTs which were resistant to burn-in (and which sometimes went into sleep mode after a period of inactivity) were developed. But in meantime, solution was found: home video game systems of era (e.g., Atari 2600s) would, when not being played, change screen every few seconds, to avoid burn-in; and computer screensaver programs were developed.
The first screensavers were simple screen blankers - they just set screen to all black, but, in best case of creeping featurism ever recorded, these tiny (often under 1K long) programs grew without regard to efficiency or even basic usefulness. At first, small, innocuous display hacks (generally on an almost-black screen) were added. Later, more complex effects appeared, including animations (often with sound effects!) of arbitrary length and complexity.
And now we live in world full of fun and entertaining screensavers. Many of them produce amazing and very attractive effects. You can find a screensaver on any theme you like, download it, install and enjoy.
This means that a typical screensaver is a program. And it really is. But isn't there something different? Is there something that distinguishes a program running as screensaver from other typical programs? You're right, there is a bit of mystery. In order to demystify it we should plunge deeper into screensavers' mechanics. But don't be afraid. It isn't complicated at all.