The return of the classic Flying Toasters screensaver

OK, here's my question: Would you like to have it on x86 Linux?

Friday FOSS Fest If you're old enough to remember After Dark, you might appreciate this: a new screensaver. Yes, in 2023. It was never really about saving screens.

Screensavers are a simple tech for a bygone era. Now, of course, most of us just let our flatscreens go to sleep after a period of inactivity. But back when CRT hummed to CRT like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps, they didn't have a sleep mode, and you needed something to prevent the unchanging parts of your screen display "burning in," where a faint ghost of the image is permanently visible, rendering a display either unpleasant or impossible to use. Don't knock it – burn-in can still affect flatscreens today.

If you did like screensavers, you can still have one. The sage of Netscape himself, Jamie Zawinski, or jwz as he's often known online, still maintains XScreensaver after 31 years. It mainly targets Unix-like OSes running X11, but it also works on macOS, iOS and Android. It's included in many distros – for instance, on Ubuntu, you can install it with:

sudo apt install xscreensaver*

(You might want to remove the gnome-screensaver program, if it's installed, as the two may clash.)

One of the classic Mac screensavers was the great After Dark from Berkeley Systems, which also sold add-on packs of additional screensavers. The Reg FOSS Desk was especially fond of the Star Trek collection, and the Totally Twisted pack also offered considerable entertainment value for something totally non-interactive. The company later ported After Dark to Windows as well.

Flying Toaster screen saver rebuilt in CSS

Probably the single most famous animation in all the collections was known as Flying Toasters, for the flocks of kitchen appliances that majestically flapped their way across the screen. This has inspired many recreations over the years, including one implemented entirely in CSS. Infinisys still offers commercial macOS and Windows versions today.

Now, poor toast-deprived penguin-fondlers can join in the retro fest, thanks to developer Mikhail Shchekotov, who has built a plugin called flying-toasters for XScreensaver on x86 Linux. It's a mere 46kB, so the download isn't even compressed: you just download the binary, add a line to your ~/.xscreensaver config file, and it works.

A slight snag is that XScreensaver already includes a module called FlyingToasters. It lives up to its name, and displays a panning zooming array of sleek shiny fixed-wing toasters with jet engines, as opposed to the feathery flappers of the original. There's nothing at all wrong with it – indeed, it's a miniature work of art in its own right, with optional chrome finish, fog, and more adjustable parameters.

Meanwhile, Mr Shchekotov's new version has no settings to twiddle at all, just the classic flappers, interspersed with flying slices of lightly grilled bread products. You can't even adjust how brown they are, and we love it. ®

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