Screensavers are program files that are saved with a .scr extension. When the computer is idle for a specified period of time, meaning no keyboard or mouse input, the screensaver is activated.
Screensavers were originally developed to protect computer screens (think about those old amber and gray monitors) from having a static image burned into the screen during long periods of inactivity. Because burn-in isn't an issue with today's monitors, screensavers are really just another way to personalize or add interest to your desktop. Screensavers are really like vanity license plates: We don't see them, but others do and it's really these other folks who get to try to figure out what we were thinking when we chose a particular screensaver (much like a vanity license plate).
Screensavers are also useful in that they can be used to password-protect your computer. Because the screensaver starts itself, it provides a measure of security that you don't have to remember to enable before you walk away from your computer. For more about setting up the screensaver's password protection see Chapter 3, "Applying and Downloading Windows Themes."
Screensavers are actually programs, and that makes them very different from the other theme elements we have discussed such as icons and backgrounds. Icons and backgrounds are just images in a particular file format that reside on the desktop, but screensavers are applications that run on top of the desktop, keeping the screen active (during periods of user inactivity). The screensavers included with Windows XP are stored in the C:\Windows\System32 folder (as shown in Figure 12.1).
Figure 12.1. The screensavers reside in the C:\Windows\System32 folder.
Integrating a screensaver with a particular Windows theme only requires that you select the screensaver on the Screen Saver tab of the Display Properties dialog box (see Figure 12.2) before you save the theme (using the Save As command on the Themes tab). After the screensaver is included as part of a particular theme, you can easily include the theme with other skin elements such as a visual style, thus making the screensaver part of the overall skin you have applied to the Windows GUI.
Figure 12.2. Select the screensaver that will be part of a particular Windows theme.
You can quickly test any screensaver listed in the Search dialog box or Windows Explorer. Right-click the screensaver's icon and then select Test from the shortcut menu. The screensaver is tested. Move the mouse to stop the test and you are returned to the Search dialog box or the Windows Explorer window.
Depending on the skinning software you are using, you can also make a screensaver part of a particular skin or change the screensaver on-the-fly as you see fit. For example, the Theme Manager (part of Stardock's Object Desktop) enables you to save a screensaver as part of a suite or change the screensaver from the Theme Manager window (see Figure 12.3).
Figure 12.3. Skinning tools such as Theme Manager also provide control over the current screensaver.
Although the screensaver probably isn't as important to the experience you receive using a Windows skin you have designed or downloaded, screensavers do add interest to the Windows environment and can be a lot of fun. You will probably become tired of the screensavers provided with Windows XP and want to build a screensaver library of your own. You have a couple of alternatives: You can either create your own or download existing screensavers.
Let's take a look at two strategies for creating your own screensavers. We will then discuss downloading and installing screensavers from the Web.