Lunduke
News • Science & Tech
The Definitive History of Screensavers: 1961 - 1990
Sci-Fi Novels, CRT Screens, & Flying Toasters
May 03, 2024
post photo preview

Screensaver’s were all the rage in the 1990s. From Flying Toasters to 3D Mazes, screensavers were found on every major operating system across the land.

Screensavers are a fun, and loved, part of the 1990s (and onward) computing experience. But what was the very first one created? What is the story behind the early screensavers? Inquiring minds want to know!

Let’s dive into the glorious early history of… the Screensaver.

The Dreaded Screen Burn-in

Leave any CRT screen (be it a standard television , computer monitor, or even an oscilloscope) on for too long — with the same, non-moving image — and you’ll eventually give your CRT something known as “Burn-in”.

PLEASE WAIT

Burn-in is caused by the way CRT’s work: The phosphors which produce the light on the screen tend to lose their luminance over time. Over-use of specific areas will, eventually, cause a dramatic enough change that ghost images can appear.

Screensavers were created to reduce this problem. By making sure that no single portion of the screen could sit, displaying the exact same image, for too long of a period.

1961

The first known reference to something akin to a screensaver is in Robert Heinlein’s Sci-Fi novel, “Stranger in a Strange Land”.

“They went to the living room; Jill sat at his feet and they applied themselves to martinis. Opposite his chair was a stereovision tank disguised as an aquarium; he switched it on, guppies and tetras gave way to the face of the well-known Winchell Augustus Greaves.”

A fish aquarium screensaver (or something very close to it), talked about all the way back in 1961. Pretty cool.

This was, of course, merely a casual reference in a work of fiction. Still… fun to note where Sci-Fi predicts reality.

Many years passed without any actual screensaver being produced. Until…

1977

In 1977, a handful of games for the new Atari Video Computer System (later named the Atari 2600), included simple color cycling effects in order to prevent screen burn-in.

The Atari VCS 2600

Were these full fledged “screensavers” as we know them nowadays? Not exactly. But they did serve to “save the screen”.

1979

Then, in 1979, Atari released two computer systems: The Atari 400 and 800. Much like the Atari 2600, these Atari computers used a color cycling effect in order to limit screen burn-in. In this case, the effect kicked in after the computer sat idle for a number of minutes.

The Atari 800

Not exactly a "Screensaver" -- at least not as we know them today.  But it's the early steps in that direction.

1983

A few years later, in January of 1983, the Apple Lisa (the precursor to the Macintosh) was released. Within it was a system wide Preferences application that allowed the user to set the Lisa to “dim” the display after a definable amount of time.

Apple Lisa Preferences

Note the non-specific amount of time to wait before the screen dims. “I would like the screen to dim between, say, 15 and 30 minutes after I stop using it.”

I find the large time windows highly amusing.  Could the Apple Lisa not handle specific amounts of time?  Fascinating.

Just the same, this is notable as it is the first time an easily configurable “screensaver” like utility is provided on a computer.

Later that same year — in the December, 1983 issue of Softalk Magazine, a young programmer named John Socha published the source code for a small piece of software he dubbed “SCRNSAVE.COM”.

Save Your Monitor Screen!

That first PC screensaver was pretty darn simple — it made the screen go blank after an amount of time set in the source code. And, because this was the early 1980’s, you typed the whole thing in by hand from the pages of a magazine.

Want to change how long your computer would wait until the screen went blank? Modify the source code and re-compile.

Side note: Many claim that John Socha’s SCRNSAVE.COM was the first screen saver. Clearly the Apple Lisa shipped first (as did the Atari 400/800). But it very well may be the first screensaver for the IBM PC, which is already a very cool badge of honor. Also worth noting that its author, John Socha (who is also the creator of Norton Commander), would go on to significant things in the screensaver world.

1988

Every attempt at "saving screens", up until now, had been pretty... dull.  Black screens.  Color cycling.  Just enough to pevent screen burn.  That was about to change.

The first publicly released screensaver package which contained distinct, configurable displays… was the “Magic ScreenSaver” for Windows 2.0, first released in 1988 by Bill Stewart and Ian Macdonald as a piece of shareware.

Passwords!  Sleep area!  All the basics of screensavers are here!

The early versions of Windows did not contain any built-in screensaver functionality. Magic ScreenSaver added that. And it looked like this:

Oooooooh.  So many lines.

This was it.  Magic ScreenSaver in 1988.  This was the turning point when "Screensavers" became "Screensavers" as we know them today.

1989

Remember how the Apple Lisa had a built-in screen dimming functionality? Strangely, just like early Windows, the Macintosh did not have anything like that.

Enter: After Dark.

Originally developed by James Eastman, After Dark was a screen saver package for the Macintosh. It was initially an un-named hobby project which, after it was shared with a friend at Berkeley Systems, was acquired and renamed “After Dark”.

The first version of After Dark.

The first release of After Dark used no bitmap artwork (relying entirely on programmatically generated graphics) and was not anticipated to be a big hit. But it was. And the crew at Berkeley then scrambled to polish it up and release a new version.

1990

Berkeley Systems pushed ahead on adding a new artistic flair to After Dark as they worked on the 2.0 release for Macintosh.

To bring a Windows version to market, they contacted the makers of Magic ScreenSaver to modify and enhance their shareware software… thus morphing it into “After Dark for Windows”.

The 2.0 release brought with it a small pile of new screen saver animations…

Welcome to Windows, After Dark.

But the real breakout hit was “Flying Toasters”.

Fly!  Fly you toasters!

In a 2007 interview with LowEndMac, the creator of After Dark (James Eastman) recalls the birth of those flying toasters:

“For 2.0 we needed to build more personality into it – really engage. We thought this over in the abstract for quite a while. My wife’s a doctor – she was doing her residency then and was frequently gone overnight. So I’d sit up late programming. Very late.

 

I had a Mac II with a color screen – $5,000 computer in those days.

One of those late nights I was thinking about the artistry problem – how to do something really fun for 2.0.

 

I was wandering around the house. I drifted into the kitchen, and the toaster caught my eye. My sleep-deprived brain put wings on it.

 

I went upstairs and drew some animation frames – I used the development system’s icon editor. Little white outline toasters on a black background with little stubby plucked-chicken wings speed lines and a flapping electrical cord. I coded up the animation that night and brought it to Berkeley Systems the next day.

 

Everybody thought it was hilarious and everybody agreed it needed to be redrawn.

Wes brought in an artist to re-render the toasters, and Patrick re-coded the module in C. The modules all had a little control panel – I insisted on having a slider that controlled the doneness of the toast.”

The result was an instant hit — and an enduring classic.

The "doneness" of the toast was, indeed, a nice touch.

Which brings us to the end of 1990… the popularity of the screensaver was about to explode.

And, wouldn't you know it, the release of After Dark 2.0 brough with it a Screensaver module named "Aquatic Realm".  A virtual fish tank.

Just like Robert Heinlein wrote about way back in 1961.

After Dark's "Aquatic Realm"

From Sci-Fi novel to reality.  Only took us 29 years to get there.

Not too darn shabby.

community logo
Join the Lunduke Community
To read more articles like this, sign up and join my community today
9
What else you may like…
Videos
Podcasts
Posts
Articles
Mozilla Caves to Criticism, Unblocks Firefox Extensions in Russia

Two days after blocking anti-Censorship, pro-Privacy Firefox Extensions in Russia, Mozilla has reversed course.

The full article:
https://lunduke.locals.com/post/5738970/mozilla-firefox-blocks-anti-censorship-and-pro-privacy-extensions-in-russia

00:06:28
Open Source A.I. Definition to include Closed, Secret Data

The Open Source Initiative -- backed by Microsoft, Amazon, Meta -- is pushing for a "Closed" definition of "Open Source Artificial Intelligence."

00:21:42
Mozilla's War on the Open Internet

The Mega Corp behind Firefox takes another step to stomp out free speech and an "Open Web".

Mozilla Firefox blocks anti-Censorship and pro-Privacy extensions in Russia:
https://lunduke.locals.com/post/5738970/mozilla-firefox-blocks-anti-censorship-and-pro-privacy-extensions-in-russia

00:16:44
November 22, 2023
The futility of Ad-Blockers

Ads are filling the entirety of the Web -- websites, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc. -- at an increasing rate. Prices for those ad placements are plummeting. Consumers are desperate to use ad-blockers to make the web palatable. Google (and others) are desperate to break and block ad-blockers. All of which results in... more ads and lower pay for creators.

It's a fascinatingly annoying cycle. And there's only one viable way out of it.

Looking for the Podcast RSS feed or other links? Check here:
https://lunduke.locals.com/post/4619051/lunduke-journal-link-central-tm

Give the gift of The Lunduke Journal:
https://lunduke.locals.com/post/4898317/give-the-gift-of-the-lunduke-journal

The futility of Ad-Blockers
November 21, 2023
openSUSE says "No Lunduke allowed!"

Those in power with openSUSE make it clear they will not allow me anywhere near anything related to the openSUSE project. Ever. For any reason.

Well, that settles that, then! Guess I won't be contributing to openSUSE! 🤣

Looking for the Podcast RSS feed or other links?
https://lunduke.locals.com/post/4619051/lunduke-journal-link-central-tm

Give the gift of The Lunduke Journal:
https://lunduke.locals.com/post/4898317/give-the-gift-of-the-lunduke-journal

openSUSE says "No Lunduke allowed!"
September 13, 2023
"Andreas Kling creator of Serenity OS & Ladybird Web Browser" - Lunduke’s Big Tech Show - September 13th, 2023 - Ep 044

This episode is free for all to enjoy and share.

Be sure to subscribe here at Lunduke.Locals.com to get all shows & articles (including interviews with other amazing nerds).

"Andreas Kling creator of Serenity OS & Ladybird Web Browser" - Lunduke’s Big Tech Show - September 13th, 2023 - Ep 044
Off to a fantastic start!

A huge high-five is in order for everyone who pitched in and grabbed a subscription (or otherwise donated) today!

I do believe we've put enough funds in the "This is For The Linux Distro" account to cover all of the obvious expenses (servers, hardware, domains, etc.) for at least the next half year or so. Most outstanding!

I'll be honest... I wasn't expecting this level of response!

I'll leave the sale running until midnight tonight if anyone else wants to jump in, but this is truly amazing. All of you rule.

Next up: Getting servers, domain, source repository, and forum set up.

8 hours ago

#Commodore #Wikipedia

Here's a demo of an in-development Wikipedia-specific online browser running on C64 OS, which is a commercial OS now available for Commodore 64s. Data speeds are hobbled a bit by a 2400 baud modem, but seems very functional with neat features like multiple-language support and flexible screen usage under user control. This offers a much richer experience compared to Minitel or early online services like GEnie back in the day.

A question for the group:

Does Microsoft 365 run under Wine? Back when MS Office was a stand alone product it installed and worked well in wine but does it still? The need/desire to use this product has stopped some people from moving away from Windows and to Linux.

post photo preview
Last week at The Lunduke Journal (June 9 - June 15, 2024)
Firefox! Russia! WWDC! Open Source A.I.!

My-oh-my.  Another wild week at The Lunduke Journal!  It all kicked off with a live video commentary of Apple's WWDC keynote (which was banned by YouTube, but still available at the links below), then quickly moves to Mozilla and Open Source AI.

The Videos

The Articles

Previous Few Weeks

Reminder: Check out The Lunduke Journal Link Central page for all the handy URLS.  Podcast RSS feeds, contact info, direct links to some of the big shows and articles and a bunch of other goodies.  And be sure to subscribe to The Lunduke Journal to help support the work... and make sure you don't miss out on anything.

Read full Article
post photo preview
The CIA, NSA, and Pokémon Go

Back in July of 2016, I wrote a short article for Network World entitled “The CIA, NSA, and Pokémon Go."

While the title was certainly viewed as a bit “over the top” and “conspiracy theorist-y”, it was really just a collection of (in my opinion, rather bizarre) facts that – even without any sinister connection – were worth documenting. I am republishing it here, with some additional (increasingly odd) details added at the end (including radio and TV appearances related to this article).

Some of the details relating to the exact permissions and capabilities of the Pokémon application have changed over the last few years… but everything else remains correct, factual, and up to date.

 


 

The CIA, NSA, and Pokémon Go

With Pokémon Go currently enjoying, what I would call, a wee-bit-o-success, now seems like a good time to talk about a few things people may not know about the world's favorite new smartphone game.

This is not an opinion piece. I am not going to tell you Pokémon Go is bad or that it invades your privacy. I’m merely presenting verifiable facts about the biggest, most talked about game out there.

Let’s start with a little history

Way back in 2001, Keyhole, Inc. was founded by John Hanke (who previously worked in a “foreign affairs” position within the U.S. government). The company was named after the old “eye-in-the-sky” military satellites. One of the key, early backers of Keyhole was a firm called In-Q-Tel.

In-Q-Tel is the venture capital firm of the CIA. Yes, the Central Intelligence Agency. Much of the funding purportedly came from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The NGA handles combat support for the U.S. Department of Defense and provides intelligence to the NSA and CIA, among others.

Keyhole’s noteworthy public product was “Earth.” Renamed to “Google Earth” after Google acquired Keyhole in 2004.

In 2010, Niantic Labs was founded (inside Google) by Keyhole’s founder, John Hanke.

Over the next few years, Niantic created two location-based apps/games. The first was Field Trip, a smartphone application where users walk around and find things. The second was Ingress, a sci-fi-themed game where players walk around and between locations in the real world.

In 2015, Niantic was spun off from Google and became its own company. Then Pokémon Go was developed and launched by Niantic. It’s a game where you walk around in the real world (between locations suggested by the service) while holding your smartphone.

Data the game can access

Let’s move on to what information Pokémon Go has access to, bearing the history of the company in mind as we do.

When you install Pokémon Go on an Android phone, you grant it the following access (not including the ability to make in-app purchases):

Identity

  • Find accounts on the device

Contacts

  • Find accounts on the device

Location

  • Precise location (GPS and network-based)

  • Approximate location (network-based)

Photos/Media/Files

  • Modify or delete the contents of your USB storage

  • Read the contents of your USB storage

Storage

  • Modify or delete the contents of your USB storage

  • Read the contents of your USB storage

Camera

  • Take pictures and videos

Other

  • Receive data from the internet

  • Control vibration

  • Pair with Bluetooth devices

  • Access Bluetooth settings

  • Full network access

  • Use accounts on the device

  • View network connections

  • Prevent the device from sleeping

Based on the access to your device (and your information), coupled with the design of Pokémon Go, the game should have no problem discerning and storing the following information (just for a start):

  • Where you are

  • Where you were

  • What route you took between those locations

  • When you were at each location

  • How long it took you to get between them

  • What you are looking at right now

  • What you were looking at in the past

  • What you look like

  • What files you have on your device and the entire contents of those files

I’m not going to tell people what they should think of all this.

I’m merely presenting the information. I recommend looking over the list of what data the game has access to, then going back to the beginning of this article and re-reading the history of the company.

Update: April 14th, 2020

In March of 2017, a little less than a year after this article was originally published, WikiLeaks released what they called “Vault 7." A series of documents that was purported to be a large leak of CIA related documents focused heavily on hacking and electronic surveillance.

Among those documents was a list of code names, descriptions, and various details around Android specific exploits.

Of the code names listed… almost a third of them were Pokémon names. Between that and the CIA investment (via In-Q-Tel) in Niantic (the company behind Pokémon Go)… I mean, that's just a heck of a lot more Pokémon than one would expect from the CIA.

One other little tidbit:

The original CEO of In-Q-Tel was a man named Gilman Louie. Louie received multiple awards for his work with In-Q-Tel - including CIA Agency Seal Medallions, Director's Award by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Director of National Intelligence Medallion – which included investing in Keyhole.

Louie now sits on the board of directors of Niantic.

In 2019 alone, Pokémon Go earned $1.4 Billion (USD). As of February 2019, the game had been downloaded over One Billion times.

Update: June 15th, 2024

After this article was originally published, back in 2016, I made a few radio guest appearances to talk about it -- my favorites being for Coast to Coast AM and Fade to Black.  Both of which remain available online.

This was followed by an episode of a TV show, for The History Channel, called "Breaking Mysterious".  That show only received a limited run in the USA, but it remains available via streaming in many other countries in case you want to look it up.

Here's a few snapshots from that episode (Season 1, Episode 1 - "The Watchers") just for good measure.

The show was originally titled "The Unexplained".  But the name was changed to "Breaking Mysterious"... and, later, "The Unexplained" title was used for an entirely different show, hosted by William Shatner.

 

Yup.  The video editors for the History Channel spelled my name wrong.  (It's with a Y!  A Y, I say!)

 

Sitting in a park.  Dropping truth bombs about surveillance on the show host, Jimmy Church.

 

Giving the show's host "The Look".
Read full Article
post photo preview
Funny Programming Pictures Part XLIV
Father's Day Weekend Edition

I hit Ctrl-C 187,000 times while creating this article.

 

... or simply don't know what we did, but it works.  It's "the algorithm".

 

Remember when Windows Vista was the "Best Advertisement for Linux"?  Good times.

 

We're all doomed.

 

This is the correct answer for every topic for an experienced dev: I hate everything, for different reasons.

 

Correct.

 

This is a tough conversation for any dad to have.

 

The other 1% is giving up and just using a Center tag inside of a Table.

 

The more times you hit Ctrl-C, the better it copies.

 

GLAAARRGGHHH!

 

"Backend Developer"

 

WE ARE LINUX. YOU WILL BE ASSIMILATED. YOUR LINE BREAK TYPE WILL BE LF. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.

 

Don't look behind you.  Copilot is catching up.
Read full Article
See More
Available on mobile and TV devices
google store google store app store app store
google store google store app tv store app tv store amazon store amazon store roku store roku store
Powered by Locals