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10 Screensavers of Yore

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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!

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Carol Munro // Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
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The End Is Near for Microsoft Paint
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Carol Munro // Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Microsoft Paint is one of the few programs that has come standard in every Windows operating system since the tech company was founded. Now, after a 32-year run, The Telegraph reports that MS Paint is set to be discontinued.

When the program was introduced as part of Windows 1.0 in 1985, MS Paint allowed users to sketch doodles with their cursor on a blank canvas. The low-tech concept hasn’t evolved much since then, but MS Paint still maintains a loyal fan base, attracting 100 million users a month in 2016. Now, those artists will have to go elsewhere to create their digital masterpieces: In its recent announcement of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, Microsoft listed Paint as a “deprecated” app, which means the company will no longer support it and it will probably disappear from future Windows versions.

In place of Paint, Microsoft is launching a more advanced art-making app called Paint 3D. Like the original program, Paint 3D allows users to create quick drawings using digital pens and paintbrushes. But the new feature is geared more toward creating 3D art, something that was never offered in MS Paint.

When the Fall Creators update comes out in September, it may mark the end of an era for Windows users. But don’t count on MS Paint being out of the game for good—Microsoft has been known to revive classic features, as was the case with Clip Art in 2016.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Internet Archive // Sketch the Cow
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Play the Sneakers Computer Press Kit from 1992
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Internet Archive // Sketch the Cow

In September 1992, the computer hacking movie Sneakers hit theaters. To correspond with its launch, members of the press received a floppy disk containing a mysterious DOS program that, when launched, asked for a password. Once the reporters "hacked" their way in, they found the Sneakers Computer Press Kit. Thanks to the Internet Archive, you can play at being the film press of 1992.

It's hard to characterize exactly what this electronic press kit is. Is it a game? Sort of. It's essentially a very gentle computer hacking simulator, in which the "hacking" consists entirely of guessing passwords (complete with helpful prompts from the program itself), and the payload you discover is silly stuff like mini-biographies of Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, and Sidney Poitier. Still, it's a good match for the film itself, which helped set the template for Hollywood depictions of computer hacking.

A paper folder lies open on a wooden floor, with a black floppy disk on top. The folder is labeled SNEAKERS in giant red letters, as is the floppy. Inside the folder is printed material. On the right flap of the folder are instructions on how to load it.
Inside the Sneakers Computer Press Kit's paper folder. (The right flap contains installation instructions, along with a note that the studio will FedEx printed material if the user doesn't have access to a printer.)
Internet Archive // Sketch the Cow

Always remember: "My voice is my passport. Verify me." Now, get cracking on this press kit and don't be flummoxed—if you can't figure out a password right away, just wait a moment.

(Incidentally, Sneakers did also include printed materials for the press, in case they lacked a computer and/or the patience to deal with this approach. But who in the world would look at that, when they could play with this? There's also a method in the Computer Press Kit that allows the user to print out more detailed materials—provided they have a printer, and it's attached to a particular printer port on the computer.)

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