screen saver

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screen saver

[′skrēn ‚sāv·ər]
(computer science)
A program that launches when a computer is not in use for a predetermined period, displaying various transient or moving images on a computer screen. Originally used to prevent computer screen damage from prolonged display of a static image, screen savers are now more of an amusement or security feature as modern monitors are less susceptible to screen burning.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

screen saver

(tool)
A program which displays either a completely black image or a constantly changing image on a computer monitor to prevent a stationary image from "burning" into the phosphor of the screen. Screen savers usually start automatically after the computer has had no user input for a preset time. Some screen savers come with many different modules, each giving a different effect.

Approximately pre-1990, many cathode ray tubes, in TVs, computer monitors or elsewhere, were prone to "burn-in"; that is, if the same pattern (e.g., the WordPerfect status line; the Pong score readout; or a TV channel-number display) were shown at the same position on the screen for very long periods of time, the phosphor on the screen would "fatigue" and that part of the screen would seem greyed out, even when the CRT was off.

Eventually CRTs were developed which were resistant to burn-in (and which sometimes went into sleep mode after a period of inactivity); but in the meantime, solutions were developed: home video game systems of the era (e.g., Atari 2600s) would, when not being played, change the screen every few seconds, to avoid burn-in; and computer screen saver programs were developed.

The first screen savers were simple screen blankers - they just set the screen to all black, but, in the best case of creeping featurism ever recorded, these tiny (often under 1K long) programs grew without regard to efficiency or even basic usefulness. At first, small, innocuous display hacks (generally on an almost-black screen) were added. Later, more complex effects appeared, including animations (often with sound effects!) of arbitrary length and complexity.

Along the way, avoiding repetitive patterns and burn-in was completely forgotten and "screen savers" such as Pointcast were developed, which make no claim to save your monitor, but are simply bloated browsers for push media which self-start after the machine has been inactive for a few minutes.
This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (foldoc.org)

screen saver

A utility that was originally created to prevent a CRT from being etched by an unchanging image. After a specified duration of time without keyboard or mouse input, it blanks the screen or displays moving objects. Pressing a key or moving the mouse restores the screen. Screen savers can be password enabled so that no one else can gain access to the computer when users leave them running.

More Now for Fun and Security
With the vast improvements made to CRTs over the years, it would actually take many hours to burn an image onto a late model CRT. In addition, LCD flat panel monitors do not use phosphors and are not subject to burn-in. However, the security aspect as well as the entertainment they offer (swimming fish, flying toasters, etc.) makes them a popular and worthwhile utility. See screen burn and wallpaper.
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