In the early days of CRT monitors, we had real technical reasons requiring screensavers for our computers. Screensavers were programs that kicked in when you weren't using the computer, in order to prevent "burn-in" of constant onscreen elements like menu bars. But what started as a pragmatic solution quickly turned to the realm of entertainment: if you're going to display some random stuff on the screen, why not make it fun?
Here's a roundup of some screensavers I remember from the Good Old Days of computing -- the 90s -- when screensavers were delightfully corny, 3D graphics meant "the future," and flying toasters invaded our dreams. Enjoy!
Mac LC 575 - Flying Toasters
After Dark was a popular screensaver package developed in 1989. It was originally called "Magic ScreenSaver" before adopting the After Dark name (note: see the bottom of this post for a bit more on the history here). After Dark (or "AD," as we called it) allowed you to select from a bunch of screensaver options, but the most popular was, at least among my friends, "Flying Toasters." Here's a variant including a fight song!
(Hat-tip to Allison Keene for finding this and inspiring this post!)
Mac SE/30 - Starry Night
Another After Dark favorite, Starry Night worked nicely on the black-and-white Macs that were still very common in the 90s.
Windows - Mystify Your Mind
I always thought this was the classiest Windows screensaver.
Windows - 3D Maze
And I always thought this was horrible. It's like Wolfenstein 3D minus the gameplay, plus a horrible red brick color scheme.
Windows - Flying Windows
This one was popular among Microsoft employees.
Windows - Starfield Simulation
With this one, you could pretend you were on the Starship Enterprise. Sort of.
Windows - 3D Pipes
I seem to recall this coming out with Windows 98. I also recall it blowing my mind: semi-random 3D pipes?! What will they think of next?!
Windows - 3D Text Easter Eggs
In certain versions of Windows, the 3D Text screensaver had some interesting easter eggs that were apparent if you typed special phrases into the text box. Have a look:
Windows - Marquee vs. Cat
The "Marquee" screensaver just scrolled text across the screen -- much to the consternation of nearby cats.
281 After Dark Screensavers
This video purports to include 281 individual After Dark modules for Windows. If you saw it in After Dark, it's probably here.
A Correction Regarding After Dark
I originally wrote that After Dark was first written for the Mac. Apparently the history here is much more complex -- the After Dark product that I knew was actually largely based on Magic ScreenSaver, which was first written for Windows and then merged/ported to Mac. I'm in contact with the author of Magic ScreenSaver (later renamed After Dark) for Windows, and hope to bring you more on this soon. Stay tuned!
What Did I Leave Out?
I'm just scratching the surface of classic screensavers here. If you have a favorite, please share it in the comments!