Today, a screensaver may seem like a novelty, but it once served as a way to prevent “screen burn” in cathode ray tube monitors. While screensavers are no longer necessary for that purpose, the nostalgia element will forever tie the programs into the fabric of a quondam age. In the era of bottomless add-ons and a regular rabbit hole of Easter eggs — we’re looking at you, Google — it’s difficult to conceptualize the rustic days of home computing and the dusty wild wild web. Thankfully, the best screensavers from the ’90s make it a little easier to do so.
Let’s take a trip back to a simpler time, when Chip challenged and Rodents revenged, shall we? Just sit back, relax — perhaps bust out the BonziBuddy for added ambiance — and enjoy some of the most memorable screensavers from yesteryear.
It would be preposterous to have a roundup of the best screensavers and not mention perhaps the most recognizable program of them all. The 3D Maze originally came with Windows 95 and 98, and the Doom-esque first-person thriller gave millions of individuals a real hoot. Who needs virtual reality when you can plop down in front of an HP Pavilion and behold this?
You can alter speed and even add some shoddy graphics to go full-on bad batch at Bonnaroo, or even upload images from your media library and have a regular “this is your life” walkabout through a phantasmagoria of low-res images.
This spacefarer screensaver was ubiquitous at the turn of the Willenium, because nothing says “warp speed ahead” quite like a dial-up connection. You can watch 10 hours of Starfield here, if you’re so inclined. Note: If you watch long enough you will eventually collide with a portion of a debris field in a galaxy far, far away. Trust us — wait for it.
After Dark is a series of screensavers released by Berkely Systems, and the early packages included the popular Flying Toasters screensaver. Later variants even came loaded with all sorts of special features, like, you know, bagels.
Johnny Castaway was a staple in many repurposed “computer rooms” of the mid-’90s. The screensaver illustrates a day in the life of Johnny Castaway, who is marooned on a deserted island with only a palm tree to hear his woes. We get to watch ol’ JC fish, exercise, build sand castles, and enjoy an oddly-formal dinner with a merbae, but is he ever rescued? You’ll just have to buy one of the original, 3.5-inch floppy disks (or download the screensaver) to find out.
MOPy Fish was the result of both screensaver fever and the short-lived digital pet craze of the late-’90s. With our lanyards and keychains already loaded with digital pets in varying degrees of neglect and malnourishment, we needed yet another for our desktop machines. Behold MOPy fish, a blood parrot cichlid that individuals could feed and cherish — or not.
As it turns out, this screensaver, much like the vast majority of the ocean floor, is relatively void of life. With this digital aquarium, you can experience the same ephemeral, emotional benefits of a pet fish without the cleanup or a constant, electric drone echoing through your lonely apartment.
Lost in space
This gem stands as a true testament to the seemingly boundless joy human beings once experienced at the mere sight of just about anything glinting off of their monitors. Splice in a couple of galaxies, some nebular remnants, add a dollop of two-dimensional goodness to taste and, my friend, you’ve got yourself a regular desktop hit. Time to get Microsoft on the phone.
The 1999 smash hit, The Matrix, inspired this cryptic “digital rain” screensaver. Remember, the Matrix is a system and that system is our enemy, and that system may or may not run on Windows Millennium. Here’s hoping those potential Matrix spinoffs actually get off the ground.