By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
Screensavers used to save your screen. That was in the bad old days when a constant image could damage your computer monitor.
Modern computers have monitors that can't get burned in like the old ones. So why do we still have screensavers?
Ah, what a silly question! Screensavers are fun, informative, entertaining, enlightening or just plain pretty. They make computing a little more enjoyable, and they're often free. A few basic screensavers come with every computer you can buy these days, and you can find hundreds of others on the Internet.
They come in three varieties—screensavers that show patterns or images, screensavers that are actually games you can play with the mouse and screensavers that display news or "channels" from Web sites. I haven't seen more than a few screensavers of the second type, so I don't know enough about them to tell you anything helpful, and "channel" screensavers can wait for another day. We'll concentrate on some of the best regular screensavers for Windows 95 and 98.
The champ could well be Kaleidoscope 95 from Syntrillium Software, the cleverest multi-pattern screensaver I have ever seen. You can choose from a few dozen ready-made designs and can change many parameters for each one—the possibilities are practically limitless—and you can show all of them in random order or show just the ones you like the most.
The designs created by Kaleidoscope are amazingly beautiful. You can even set Kaleidoscope to generate patterns in response to music you're playing on your PC (through any source). The drawback is clear: I find a get less work done when Kaleidoscope is running because I end up watching the patterns when I should be writing.
Syntrillium's Kaleidoscope can also team up with a companion sound generator called Wind Chimes that emulates the chimes you hang by your front door. Wind Chimes is equally clever, and will play in the background while you're doing anything at the computer.
You can download both of them athttp://www.syntrillium.com/. They're both nagware, programs that remind you now and then to pay up ($15 for Kaleidoscope's non-audio-enabled version or $25 otherwise, and $20 for Wind Chimes). But unlike a lot of nagging shareware, they don't have any functions disabled in the version you can try for free.
My favorite "star journey" screensaver for Windows 95 and 98 is StarFlight, a free amusement from Matthias Huebner. Huebner's way of simulating a trip through space is so realistic that you'll duck if you sit too close to the screen. Find it athttp://attack.simplenet.com/screensavers/saver5.html.
Kaleidoscope 95 thrives on a display with thousands or millions of colors (High Color or True Color, in Microsoft's terms). What is your computer can show only 256 colors? Try the Psychedelic Screensaver from Synthesoft. It can also respond to music, and will deprive you of sleep and normal companionship for days while you explore all the possible settings for designs and patterns. (They're not as beautiful as the ones in Kaleidoscope, but they look great on a 256-color display.)
Get the Psychedelic Screensaver athttp://www.synthesoft.com/. You can try it for free, or pay $20 for a non-nagging version.
If you have a fast PC (a Pentium 90 or faster) and have Windows 98, you're missing one of the delights of the decade if you don't own Microsoft Plus! 98. Among its many features is the Organic Art screensaver from Computer Artworks. Surrealistic creatures, plants and eerie robotic shapes grow and mutate on your screen in an incredible 3D fashion. You must see this screensaver in action if you're at all interested in the state of the art in 3D simulation.
Plus! 98 costs about $40 and can be bought at most software outlets.
If you like fractals, here are two great screensavers: Optimal Mandelbrot from Improbable Software (downloadable fromhttp://www.downlinx.com/MM-graphics-math.htm) and Fractal Clouds, written by Letizia Di Nunno (from http://www.registerline.com/fclouds/). The first is $15 and the second is $8, but both function normally for a free trial.