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Screen Savers Are (Still) Cool

Sep 17, 2009 In Development By Karsten Januszewski

I have, do and always will love screen savers.  They are, to me, an essential part of the PC experience.  The basic idea of having your PC “do” something when it isn’t in use makes total sense.  What other appliance in your house/office actually does something when you aren’t actively using it?  Most machines just sit idle, waiting to be used.  Not a PC: it can actually do something while not “being used.”

The classic example of sharing your idle CPU cycles is SETI@home.  I believe they were the first to tap into massive distributed compute power to try to solve a problem.  Since then, there have been numerous other examples that use this technique.

But screen savers haven’t always been and still aren’t always so “noble.” Take for example the classic After Dark Flying Toaster screen saver. Don’t remember that one? YouTube to the rescue:

And also who could forget the aquarium screen saver?

Or for the sci fi folks, there was (is) the Matrix screen saver.

Probably the most common screen savers nowadays are very Web 2.0: screen savers of your own photos.  And why not? What better use for the hundreds of digital photos that normally lie as dormant as the drawer full of photo albums?  Or, to be really Web 2.0, use  this Flickr screensaver from Codeplex and pull photos from the web.

Personally, I run a screen saver called Cellular Automata for Electric Power simulation (CAPOW) by one of my heroes, Rudy Rucker.  (If you aren’t familiar with Rudy Rucker, he’s worth checking out – brilliant mathematician,computer scientist and science fiction writer. And his blog rules.) You can read all about cellular automata but know this: they look really cool!  You can download the application,source code and screensaver here. People are always walking by my office and asking where I got my screen saver. Here’s some screenshots:

One final thought on screen savers: why not build your own? This project up on codeproject is quite good for getting started. This WPF one is good too and has a Visual Studio template to get you started, which you could then open in Blend.

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6 comments so far. You should leave one, too.

John Sylvester said on Feb 16, 2009

Would it not be much easier to turn off your monitor when it''s not in use and save power? Rather than running a screensaver you won''t see because you''re not using the PC?

Max C said on Feb 16, 2009

Are you totally unaware of what''s going on in this world? Running a screen saver or anything else really does use a lot of extra electricity. They were cool but they aren''t any more.

Karsten Januszewski said on Feb 17, 2009

John and Max -- Good points. Hadn''t looked at it from that perspective.

Sean Gerety said on Feb 18, 2009

Here''s one that I used to run in 2000. Organic Art. Very Cool stuff.

How about an idea for a "greensaver". A screen saver that could pull your electricity usage and report it?


Austin said on Feb 18, 2009

I agree about the lost electricity, but I think that is what makes things ilke CETI@Home such a great tool. Human nature is to not turn off your monitor, but even if you add code to shut off / turn on the monitor, you are still wasting electricity just running the PC. So a combination approach: capture those wasted clock cycles, but have the system turn off the monitor until it is time to wake back up.

Fred Mackie said on Mar 3, 2009

I remember screen savers fondly, but nowadays my laptop sleeps when it''s not being used. The pleasure of desktop background pictures, though, will never go out of fashion.