Screen-saver rant

Posted by on Jan 29, 2016 in KDE, other, ownCloud, private | 12 Comments

I’m an old guy who is in IT for a long long time. The reason why I love computer and information technology is the constant change, improvements, new technologies, business models, companies, products, use cases appear, have their golden age and disappear again.
I love this reinvention and questioning of the past. This is what makes IT for me more exiting than a lot of other areas of our world.
But from time to time you see things in IT and computers and you wonder, why does this still exist?
One example that I picked for me rant today are screen-savers.
So what are screen-savers?
In the 70s and 80s people used text command line interfaces at the computers and mainly black and white or green CRT monitors. This CRT monitors had a problem. If they show the same interface for a long time like for example Wordstar or Visicalc then the interface is burned into the screen and the screen is basically damaged. This was not good.
Then operating systems introduced a new invention. Screen-savers. A feature so save the screens. They did this by showing animated graphics while the computer is not in use to prevent the burn in effect. This was clever and made some sense for a short period of time.
In the 90s this screen-savers became very popular. People downloaded new ones from the internet, or even paid money to get the very cool and fancy ones.
This is of course a bit idiotic because they only run when you are AWAY from you computer. So the cool animations are only shown when you are NOT looking at your screen. But hey, people loved them.
Then in the late 90s the computer industry invented something new. It was called APM (Advanced Power Management). It allowed the operating system to turn of the computer screen when the computer is not used. Make sense, right? But this is boring and who cares about saving electricity anyways so people still loved their screen-savers.

In the meantime the screen-savers became even more advanced and started to use more and more 3D graphics. This was also the time when external graphic cards became popular that allowed to show very advanced and beautiful 3D graphics on the screen.

This had the even more idiotic effect that Computer consumed MORE energy and generated more fan noise while there are NOT used. Most 3D screen-savers basically used 100% of the CPU and GPU at the time.
So this screen savers actually consumed more energy then no screen saver.
Later LCD screens where introduced who don’t have the burn in problem, except in very extreme situations or if you use a very early model. But of course this didn’t stop people from using screen-savers. In fact all major operating systems still ship with a set of screen-savers that are 1. completely useless and 2. counter productive if you want to save energy.
Just imagine if mobile phone or tablets would have copied this idea and would show 3D graphics while not being used. Obviously a very bad idea.
So Linux Desktop Environment developers and operating system and distribution makers, please let’s move screen savers into the IT grave yard next to Scroll-Lock buttons, Parallel-Ports and Floppy-Discs.


  1. Martin Graesslin

    As the maintainer of Plasma’s lock screen I completely agree with you. That’s why we in Plasma morphed the screen saver into what is nowadays the lock screen. No animations, etc.

    And you cannot imagine how many complaints we had because we took the user’s freedom to run screen savers.

  2. Fred

    Everything you say is true, but the solution is simple. Turn them off.

  3. vdp

    Good luck with that noble endeavour 🙂

  4. Eduard

    I saw real LCD TVs (it didn’t seem to be outdated) used for running ads with Media Player Classic, but somehow it seemed to stuck. And you know what? It had ugly burnout of the Media Player Classic logo right in the middle of the screen. Apparently, it just stuck and noone changed it and it is just one example of many that show that current LCD screens still need protection from burning.

    But i totally agree with you that somehow screensavers became more of a strangely fancy thing to entertain people staring at your screen when you’re absent for coffee. And it really usually just is annoying. The solution for that might be just more strict mentoring of screensavers packages, like, basic screensavers should only include very basic ones and not really CPU/GPU power consuming, plain 2D.

  5. Matthew

    I generally agree with your points, but I’m afraid you’ve lost on the mobile front! Android includes Day Dreams (See ), which is a screen saver for phones. Luckily it only does something by default when charging, and it doesn’t come pre-enabled.

  6. J Janz

    Well, sort of: android DOES have “screensavers” but they’ve shifted a bit to their current use. As they’re no longer meant to save screen or energy, there they’re called Daydream, IMO a good name for their use case: give you something pretty or useful to see when your phone is idle while charging. That’s also my wife’s use case for them at our mediacenter when we’re not using it, since it’s there in the living room.

    That is, in this case (or basicly since no-burn-in displays), technology evolved it to this use, so possibly the only thing missing is this name change.

    • J Janz

      BTW, I have no use for any, either Android’s or the Media Center, but I definitely see an use.

  7. chrisretusn

    Nice rant. I remember when screen-savers were somewhat useful with those old monochrome monitors. I quit using screen-savers ages ago. The off-on button always worked for me. One of the first things I do on any system is disable the screen=saver.

  8. Fri13

    Here we go again…..

    The screensaver is useless as to save the screens from burn-in.

    But the points that you were off when the images etc were shown is false!

    Computers, especially laptops doesn’t consume much of power when running. And you leave them on even when you don’t use them just so you quickly can check something.

    And here is the thing, a lock screen is more counter productive than a screensaver is.

    What should be done is to rename “screensaver” as “visual security”. Same thing as lock screens should be renamed “loginscreen”.

    You sit somewhere in office and you don’t use computer, a screensaver will tell you the device is on, it can feed direct information to you like smartphone notification LED or as many OLED display devices, a notification, or like example Motorola Moto Display, using sensors to notice when user pulls phone from a pocket or touch it on table, it wakes screen and shows the notifications.

    One of the most useful features is when a screensaver shows new emails and other notifications. You don’t need to be checking computer but you just glance it once.
    And that is what older people want to see, a email icons circling in screen when new email has been received etc.

    In office or home a screensaver is as well a decoration feature. You see your photos swapping in it. And you look those more than the images on your walls! So should we throw away the prints on walls? So say screensaver haters!

    So how about wallpapers? Should we throw those away as anyone doesn’t see those either? Yes say screensaver haters!
    Same thing can be made for the lock screen backgrounds! You use those only to login, not to use computer for them!

    And while we are at it, we can throw all the colorful icons per mimetype etc away! You don’t need to have red for PDD and blue for ODT etc. Just give black white icons where you have a folders and files. It would simplify and speed up the computer use.

    And while at it, remove all the other small features that are not needed at the usage. Like a windowing as with phones and tablets we are custom to use just one app at the time!
    And countless studies show that only about 2% of people can do multitasking, so lets remove OS from our software system, so Linux (kernel) is useless as we can use computer without it as all what we need is a one program running at the time!

    And now when we talk about power consumption, why not remove all useless background effects like plasma transparency and animations etc too? Once you have learned that menu comes down/up, you don’t need animation to slow you down!

    Lock screen is useful only when other people has access to your computer, and EVERYONE who knows about security knows that once someone has physical access to your computer, there is _no security_.

    So lock screens are useless! We can remove them!

    Wallpapers are least used as they are blocked by useless lockscreen and then covered by applications that are most often running in laptop with most common resolution 1366×768 so you need to run full screen mode.

    Desktop as launcher is dead, plasma already did it!
    Even the plasmoids and widgets are useless and can be as well removed!
    All what is needed is a launcher for applications and full screen mode. That is it.

    The screensaver is like notification menu in Android, it should be made to work more like such and as digital photo frame (that is one of the most solded digital gadgets at homes!). And even when at office, near computers, screensaver is like paintings at walls or photos on desk.

    It is a decorative element, visual reminder and notifier.
    And more useful than lockscreens are, that are useless for securing your computer to lock others out.

  9. Michael

    “In fact all major operating systems still ship with a set of screen-savers that are 1. completely useless and 2. counter productive if you want to save energy.”

    What if you don’t care about saving energy? What if you want something *emotionally* pleasing to display?

    And shouldn’t I get to decide what is emotionally pleasing?

    I install KDE-based distros on regular people’s computers. They don’t care about a technical detail such as power efficiency nor how *useful* that screen saver is to them. They don’t care.

    Rather, screen savers brings them joy. And if bringing joy to someone is what helps keep them enticed by this new idea of open-source computing, why would we take that away from them?

    Another way to think of screen savers is a kind of digital art that transforms a utilitarian piece of silicon into a digital art kiosk. It allows an avenue for artists to soften technology into something charming.

    I see that screen savers are pleasing to enough non-technical people that taking them away based on your personal idea of what enjoyment they *should* get out of their computer… would be a shame.

    Let’s make *all* people happy, the technologists and the regular users.

  10. Paul Cornett

    I will be blunt, you can pry my screensavers from my cold dead hands. I frankly enjoy them and so does my kids. PM does not work all that well on my pcs… so your argument does not hold water. About half the time the system does not go to sleep or wont wake up from it. So i just turn the pm features off and use a screensaver. This s the same argument I keep hearing. Stop playing microsoft and telling us what is good for us. Freedom is why I run linux in the first place. First thing i do when i install any distro is xscreensavers. If you dont like them, fine…. dont use them, but do not tell the rest of us that happen to like them what we like….


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