Truth be told, the necessity of the screensaver is behind us. Since CRT monitors have gone the way of the 12-inch Powerbook, most people don't need to worry about screen burn. Yet we still love screensavers.
Why? Some of them do useful things. Others are pure eye-candy. Your friends couldn't care less about seeing TPS reports on your new Cinema Display, but fire up one of these cool screensavers and watch as everyone becomes mesmerized.
SETI@Home falls into the "useful" category‚ sort of. It fills your screen with colorful graphs, but it's what's behind the scenes that's truly fascinating. SETI is a "distributed computing" project that connects your computer to a network of machines analyzing data. In this case, your machine's idle cycles are used to search for aliens. I want to believe.
En Francais, it means "flying windows," and on your Mac it means, well, the same thing. As your machine goes idle, your existing windows pick up and go buzzing around the screen. It may not sound like much, but this screensaver is definitely something to see. When you're ready to get back to work, everything glides gracefully back to where it belongs.
Fluid hasn't been ported to Intel yet, but for the folks still rocking Power PC-based machines, it's a highly-customizable screensaver that can turn into a major time-suck. It won't be long before your stoner friend suggests turning off all the lights and putting on Dark Side Of The Moon while you watch Fluid do its thing.
LotsaWater sucks up processor power, and it doesn't hide whatever's on your display (privacy freaks be warned), but it's really, really cool. LotsaWater shows your desktop, if it were caught in a rainstorm. You can configure the intensity of the raindrops as well as the accuracy of the rendering of the ripples. Sit back, enjoy and stay dry.
Folding@Home is another distributed computing project. This time, your Mac's spare cycles are being put to use crunching data for Stanford University. Your idle Mac might just unlock the key to curing cancer or Alzheimers. It can be set to run constantly in the background, or only when your machine is inactive.
I'm not a big fan of holiday-themed screensavers, and as a native Californian, snow is more of a theory than actual weather. Snowfall manages to be one of my favorites year-round, however. Choose the density and speed of the snowflakes, then simply enjoy the intricate 3-D snowfall indoors. It's not real snow, but it sure beats having to dig your car out of the driveway every morning.
4. RSS Visualizer
Eye-candy it's not, but Apple's RSS screensaver is actually extremely useful for news junkies. Apple limits you to a single source plucked from your Safari feeds; if you're handy with Yahoo Pipes or any number of other roll-your-own feed options, it's simple to create a meta-feed from several sources. Can also be handy for stalking your favorite web-lebrity via Twitter.
Face it: You've got gigs of photos just sitting there on your drive. If you're like most people, you never actually look at any of them. Apple's got an elegant solution to help you enjoy your photos already baked-in to the OS. The iPhoto screensaver will cycle through your entire library, or a specific album. A little time spent organizing your great shots will pay off in a "free" digital photo frame chock full of great shots.
For whatever reason, the image of flying toasters is one that resonates with nearly every Mac user. They've even been cemented into pop culture, serving as the logo for the nightclub on "Beverly Hills, 90210." Unfortunately, Infinisys- the owner of Flying Toasters- hasn't seen fit to transition these iconic appliances to Intel Macs. Luckily, there's an Intel-ready freeware clone of the Flying Toasters screensaver available.
Back when I used an LC II, I thought Lunatic Fringe was like Asteroids on steroids. Looking back, it was more like Asteroids on half a Red Bull and a pack of Skittles. Still, the game was (and is) the most fun you could have with a screensaver. Like many of the classic screensavers of yore, Lunatic Fringe isn't available for modern Macs, but if you've got an old copy laying around (or are sufficiently adept navigating eBay or certain dark corners of the Internet), an emulator is available to turn your new Mac into a Motorola Mac circa 1992 for some space warfare.
Not happy with our results? Vote for your choice as top screensaver.
Ray Aguilera enjoys bacon, Wham! records, and long walks on the beach.