If you have the inclination (and the time), you can create your own screensavers. One method requires that you create your screensaver in a programming tool such as Microsoft Visual Basic .Net.
Microsoft provides a great deal of help in terms of programming projects and offers a number of step-by-step articles on its Help and Support web pages. For example, an article on how to create a screensaver using Microsoft Visual Basic is available at http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;818359 (see Figure 12.4).
Figure 12.4. Microsoft provides help on writing the code for your own screensavers.
This article provides all the code for a basic screensaver. In many cases, you can also download trial versions and betas of Microsoft programming software. This enables you to decide if you really have the desire to spend the time programming your own screensavers. For example, at the time of the writing of this book, the latest version of Microsoft Visual Studio (which includes Visual Basic) was available for download at http://lab.msdn.microsoft.com/vs2005/.
If programming your own screensavers seems a little too daunting, there are ways to create screensavers without any programming. Several screensaver creation software packages are available on the Web.
The screensaver creators have their own particular takes on creating screensavers and of course vary in price. For example, ScreensaverMaker from 21hua.com (check out http://www.21hua.com) provides an easy-to-use screensaver creator that enables you to incorporate Shockwave Flash animations, different video formats (such as MPG or AVI), photo images, and web pages into your own screensavers.
Microsoft provides a lot of product information and programming tips for Visual Basic on the Visual Basic website at http://msdn.microsoft.com/vbasic/.
If you do a search on the Web for screensaver makers or editors (search for "create screensavers"), you will find many possibilities. I am using ScreensaverMaker as an example of this type of software package, but I'm not making a recommendation for ScreensaverMaker over other products available. Because most of these products come in demo or shareware versions, you can try them and decide on the one that works best for you before buying.
So, let's say you want to create a screensaver in ScreensaverMaker that uses a video you've shot. After you open Screensaver, it walks you through the steps of adding your media files to the screensaver and then compiles the screensaver into a .scr file for you. Figure 12.5 shows the opening ScreensaverMaker screen where you name your new project.
Figure 12.5. ScreensaverMaker walks you through the steps of creating a new screensaver.
After you name the new screensaver project, you can then add media content to the screensaver, such as video or image files. After you add the media content, you can preview the new screensaver. I added a hockey video that I shot on my video camera as content. The screensaver plays the video over and over (most screensavers repeat the same content). Figure 12.6 shows a preview of the screensaver I put together in ScreensaverMaker.
Figure 12.6. You can preview the screensaver you are creating.
After you've added your content, you have the option of choosing a still image to represent your screensaver. You also have the option of selecting the icon that represents your screensaver file. After following the steps provided by ScreensaverMaker, you can then choose to build the screensaver as a .scr file or build it as part of an installation file (.exe) that allows you to install the screensaver on any computer (see Figure 12.7).
Figure 12.7. ScreensaverMaker enables you to build the screensaver as a .scr file or in an installation file.
After you have created your new screensaver, you can open the Display Properties dialog box and select it from the list on the Screen Saver tab. Obviously, using a programming tool such as Visual Basic or a screensaver application such as ScreensaverMaker adds another dimension to the screensaver possibilities you can run on your computer. Creating your own screensavers also lets you incorporate another custom element into the themes and skins you create for Windows XP.
When you create a .scr file, make sure that you save it to the C:\Windows\System32 folder so it appears in the Screen Saver list on the Screen Saver tab of the Display Properties dialog box.
If you don't want to mess around with programming or screensaver creators, you can still create low-tech screensavers using images from your digital camera or scanner or items you have downloaded from the Web. Let's take a look at how you can create a slideshow screensaver without the use of any additional software (all you need are some pictures).