Screen-saver rant

Friday, Jan 29, 2016| Tags:

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.


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