Tech Life Assuming your absence

R.I.P. Flying Toasters

It doesn’t take two cups of coffee on Sunday morning to figure out why the screen saver market never bloomed into a full blown industry. Screen savers were, and are, a tool which is intended to do something while YOU AREN’T THERE. There is a fundamental contradiction in paying for something which assumes your absence.

Like most kids of the 80s, After Dark was the shit with the Flying Toasters module leading the charge. As I think back, what they really demonstrated was the evolution of graphics moving from blocky pixels to photo realistic toasters with wings. Tuck in there a variety of other visually entertaining modules, a couple of reasonably entertaining games whose name I’ve forgotten, and you’ve got a niche market which must have made some money for Berkeley Systems… well enough that they had some breathing room to create the You Don’t Know Jack series, sell off to Sierra On-line and just plain vanish.

I have two meager requirements for my screen saver:

First and foremost, it must take advantage of my hardware. I really don’t care if the processor time involved in rendering 3D fish is wear and tear on my system. My screen saver must be stunning. The built-in Flurry screen saver in Mac OS X is a good example. The Marine Aquarium from SereneScreen is another.

Second, make the planet a better place to be is not the responsibility of my screen saver. Find aliens on your own time.

Whaddya got?


Trivectus Screen Savers


jwz’s xscreensaver

— Fluid

19 Responses

  1. jwz’s xscreensaver ( is the shit. It now builds and runs on MacOS X, less the GL stuff (at least, last time I read about the OSX adventures, anyway) and allegedly the next drop of OSX will have native X Windows support. Joe Bob says, "check it out"

  2. Personally, I’ve never seen a better screensaver than the default ‘panning slideshow’ in OSX. I use it to present things in my art classes.

    I fill my Screensaver folder with all the high-res pictures I scrump from the art sites I’m always surfing. There is a definite Lolicon/injury fetish theme at the moment. Before that it was pictures from my various shoots.

  3. Sebastian Meyer 21 years ago

    I’d agree that the SETI screen saver is by far the coolest one out there.

  4. Lloyd 21 years ago

    I use this one for my powerbook:

    It’s kinda like the flurry one but more of an all-screen affair.

  5. If you use Windows and want a screensaver-like desktop: Drempels

  6. Fluid ( ) has always served me well, so much so that whenever I try to change savers, I end up switching back ASAP. From their site:

    “[Fluid] is a realtime fluid-dynamics model that renders to your screen using wave velocity color-coding and reflections on the surface of the waves. Fluid also has its own particle engine so that it can visualize particles within the liquid medium. Add to that the ability to show the streaklines of the currents and you’ve got yourself one really intense screensaver.”

    In a nutshell, it’s ultra-customizable. You can export your own themes, too. ( )

  7. I agree with Waider – xscreensaver rocks. I’ve been using it for several years and I STILL don’t think I’ve seen all the screensavers it ships with.

    At work, my group of two developers and two product managers sit in an open area, and a table in the middle serves as our place for impromptu meetings. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the others looking over my shoulder mesmerized by the dancing images on my monitor.

  8. the people who created afterdark went on to found . i can’t think of a better way to have spent the money.

  9. Bosko 21 years ago

    What exactly is the purpose of a screensaver? I think they should be banned at the office. If you want to leave your workstation, simply lock the screen (same effect as screensaver) and go get that coffee you’ve been meaning to get. There’s no need to have flying bananas or flying toasters or flying tomatoes or flying whatevers. In fact, I would argue that they are more distracting than anything else. Especially at work. There’s this one fucker where I work that always leaves his machine on with that annoying Windows screensaver that consists of a camera walking through a “Castle Wolfenstein”-like 3D maze. That thing is so annoying. Watching it implement the really basic explore-everything brute-force maze-exit algorithm makes me extremely angry and easy-to-agitate. I always walk up to his workstation when he leaves and turn off his monitor.

  10. TheNintenGenius 21 years ago

    Personally, all I do is set my monitor to go into standby after 20 minutes of inactivity. I don’t need my computer to jump through hoops to render something that’ll only show up when I’m not around, as it doesn’t make sense. If I’m going to tax my system, I at least want it to be with something I’ll actually get a chance to look at, if not interact with. Besides, screensavers suffer from “acute novelty factor syndrome,” i.e. the first few times you use it, it’s “WOW THE TOASTERS ARE FLYING AWESOME MAN,” yet after a while it quickly becomes boring, if not annoying. (the annoyance factor kicking in if you foolishly and stupidly choose a screensaver that utlizes sound effects)

    The idea of using a slideshow screensaver for presentation purposes is quite interesting to me, though, in that it’s giving an actual function to something I’ve often found functionless. (Yes, I know screensavers were/are designed to prevent monitor burn, but you can accomplish much the same thing by shutting off your monitor or having it go into standby.) I might have to look into this further…

  11. Okay, so I went to the xscreensaver page and yeah, it looks fucking awesome.

    No way am I fucking with any unix weirdness, though.


  12. Eliza: you’ll be waiting. jwz tends not to deal with non-unix stuff. OSX counts as Unix because of the BSD heritage.

  13. dhalgren 21 years ago

    You’ve mentioned some of my favorites – I also like a screensaver that works my processor.

    I’d add Helios: ( ): a giant soap bubble coexisting with a bunch of gravity-influenced particles.

  14. Klaatu 21 years ago

    Re:The SETI screen saver.

    Sebastian, what you said.


    Damn straight we know that there intelligent aliens walking around on a Jim Woodring landscape somewhere. The crux of the biscuit is-just what tempt those aliens to come visit the planet Earth…;-)?

  15. It seems as if this is the first comment log in which there’s been nothing like “Yes, After Dark was revolutionary, but LEISURETOWN IS GONE! :emoticon:”

    Wait, shit.

  16. An interesting sidenote: I just resigned from a position at a large Pharmaceutical company to go play on Wall Street. Their default Win2k image comes with a nice, professional-looking screen-saver that is written in Shockwave. One problem that they’re now facing is grid computing: taking advantage of the spare CPU cycles of all the desktops in the organization to do useful work (business analysis, genome searching, whatever). Turns out, the screensaver causes the CPU utilization to hit 90%. Doh!

  17. Floid 21 years ago

    xscreensaver has some minor issues under OS X. (Desktop-morphing hacks can’t grab the desktop because Apple’s X server doesn’t implement what would be some rather complicated Quartz -> X business; X apps aren’t allowed to take over the display so the dock still runs and makes it useless as a screenlocker. I only know this because I was bored and flipping through the documentation… Ironically, being able to have a (secondary, screenlocker-specific) dock on top of the locker is Something I Would Dearly Like to Have, since my box has an internal speaker with no physical volume control and I tend to walk away and have it autolock with music blaring. Being able to put a ‘secure’ volume control and stuff like note-leaving apps ‘on top’ of the screenlocker would be rather cool.)

    Okay, uh, as to the importance of screen-savers; they get more important as screens *don’t* need saving. It’s not about shit happening while you’re not there (something Pointcast etc. never learned), it’s about shit being there when you get back. The iOpener actually did this smartly; leave the display on at little power wastage, and you’ve got the time, weather, number of mails waiting staring you in the face when you come back. (More generally, a clock always comes in handy.) It’s not about ‘push,’ it’s about prediction.

    As to screen hacks that take advantage of the network in one way or another, there’s always that Electric Sheep thing, and || is something of a cute idea. (Also amusing as an instance of a 3D app written in Java, and it really isn’t all that slow for it.) Flying toasters were pretty gimpy if you’d ever seen a real ‘demo,’ but yeah, we know, anything you could do easily on an Amiga doesn’t count until it’s copied with much pain and effort on [Win|Mac|*NIX].

    Until I get a big efficient burn-in-free flat-panel that can automatically pop up a live HD feed of [insert interesting webcam locale here] and overlay it with the current time, my inbox-status, stock ticks, load average, countdown to next PIM alarm type-event and so on, I’m sticking with DPMS.

    Also why did the X (windowing system, not Mac) protocol have to break such that xmove doesn’t particularly work with anything cool such that implementing the equivalent of ‘fast user switching’ becomes a giant pain in the ass rather a simple and elegant demonstration of why the client/server abstraction is Good?

  18. TheNintenGenius 21 years ago

    t Floid: The app you mentioned up above that displays info such as the weather and number of emails waiting for you interests me. It’s basically the idea that I’ll have something useful to look at when I get back to my computer as opposed to a bunch of toasters flying. Flying toasters I could care less about, but the time or weather? Well, those aren’t exactly things that are bound to suffer from novelty factor syndrome now, are they?

  19. Floid 21 years ago

    For what it’s worth, you can do that pretty easily with ‘xautolock,’ and presumably also xscreensaver (which, at heart, is xautolock + an actual locking feature). [xautolock just runs a program, any program, after N units of inactivity.]

    But you’d need to write the actual ‘hack’ (in xscreensaver terminology) that would take over the screen and do all that cool shit.

    KDE and Gnome have grown some ‘active desktop’ clones, so perhaps that’s one technique, if it’s possible to target those applets at what is not actually the root window… and run an instance of that with xautolock.

    Or you could just call your presumably-running instance of mozilla with the necessary command-line mojo to open a new tab (or heck, fullscreen session?) with your nifty-page-o’-stuff on it.

    But if you wanted to actually have locking with this (DO NOT WANT PEOPLE LOOKING AT PORN), you’d have to 1. struggle with putting Moz into kiosk mode or something, and 2. use xscreensaver to get the locking functionality, which 3. seems to probably require some arcaneness of its hacks, which could rule out unmodified Mozilla, and 4. if Mozilla causes an OOM condition (which happens annoyingly frequently for me, since I’m the 10 windows/10 tabs per window kind of guy) things could get messy. (xscreensaver has some protections there versus xlockmore, but I think they revolve around trying to *reload* the hack, and trying to reload Mozilla when Mozilla is possibly still busy dying is not my idea of fun.)