The History of Windows Screensavers
Windows Screensavers started with early products such as the original Magic Screensaver, developed in 1989 for Windows 2.0. It was created years before Microsoft and Apple built screensavers into the OS and the world was deluged with thousands of screensavers, screensaver web sites and screensaver CDs.
Magic ScreenSaver -> After Dark
The Magic Screensaver was an incredibly successful product for Windows 2.0 and Windows 3.0 that spawned the even more successful successor called After Dark. Magic and After Dark were more than successful products, they really created screensavers as a product genre. Magic 2000 is a 32-bit update to the original Magic ScreenSaver. Magic 2000 has been tested on Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows Me.
Magic 2000 is provided FREE to end-users who might be curious about the screensaver that started it all. Many users claim that Magic calms their nerves or syncs to music. We make no such claims, but even we find its unpredictable, rhythmic quality is almost hypnotic.
See the Download page to download a working piece of software history.
--> History of Magic and After Dark
The original 16-bit Magic Screensaver was one of the first screensavers ever made. It was developed by Bill Stewart and Ian MacDonald at Software Dynamics, Dynamic Karma’s parent company. Magic was developed in the prehistoric days of Windows 2.x in 1989 by Bill Stewart and Ian Macdonald. We had experience with DOS and Mac computers. We were certain that Windows was going to be huge, so we jumped out ahead of the wave. Magic was the first Windows application we developed and was initially an experiment to figure out how to program for Windows. Although making a screen saver is now trivial, in 1989 it was a new thing with many extremely difficult technical challenges. We liked Magic so much that we gave it away for free on the primitive 1989 version of the internet. We were stunned to be quickly deluged with fan mail from pleased users, most of whom insisted on paying us for software we gave away freely. In response, we dropped all other development projects, improved Magic, started planning for future versions and licensed it to a lot of individuals, most Fortune 100 companies (including Microsoft, DuPont, Hewlett-Packard) and government agencies on every continent.
It's hard to imagine now, but there were only 0.25M Windows users and most of those were not on the internet when we started. Even though the market was so small by today's standards, the response was so massive that we built a very lucrative business out of licensing Magic around the world. It's more amazing considering every user who purchased it already had the software and was using it before paying to license it. With no advertising and just the quality of our work carrying the message, we garnered a large number of sales to corporations and individuals around the world.
One of the scary technical elements was the lack of protected memory or threading in early computers. A screensaver has to monitor every keyboard or mouse movement to know when to engage, so it has to be running in the background all the time. That means that any tiny error in our code *will* eventually be hit and crash the entire computer. Every time we released a product rev that made it more bulletproof as both a screensaver and password protection system, sales leaped forward. While no software can be considered absolutely perfect, after years, we got Magic to the point where it never crashed, even under rare and bizarre circumstances that users reported. As sales were streaming in for the rock-solid Magic 1.x, we planned out the modular and more sophisticated Magic 2.0. We realized we had started something big.
At this point, Bill said: "I am absolutely certain that a commercial version of this advertised and sold in stores will sell millions". For more about Magic, visit the Magic ScreenSaver page. To download a version that will work on recent operating systems, visit the Magic Download page.
Creating After Dark
Although our success with Magic (see above) made it obvious to us that a commercial version of our rock-solid screen saver would sell millions, not everyone agreed.
While we were building and improving Magic, a nuclear physics grad student at UC Berkeley made a Mac screensaver for himself that Berkeley Systems published under the name After Dark. It did not do big business and the publisher was struggling, but we were unaware of their difficulties at that time. When we were looking for someone to help take Magic commercial, they seemed the best fit at the time. We convinced Berkeley Systems to publish, but they didn't buy into the vision, saying "If PC users were cool enough to appreciate screen savers, they would have bought a Mac." They were more worried about being ostracized by the Mac community than looking at the success that we were laying at their feet. They didn't believe the Windows platform had a future.
Our plan was for the stable and successful Magic screensaver to be rebranded, become the lead product and then backport the innovations to the Mac product. There was discussion of naming the product “Magic After Dark” since Magic was already successful, but I happened to like a shorter evocative name. Since all the hard problems were already solved in our work on Magic, the Windows version of “After Dark” v1.0 was really Magic 2.0 which had better design, was much more stable and had a lot more fun animation that the Mac product. Consequently, the Windows After Dark was the fastest success in software history, going to #1 on sales charts in 3 months, outselling even Windows itself at times and staying on top for years. The Mac version of After Dark became a big seller only after it was brought up to standards of the Windows version and it was fixed to not crash as much.
Right after we signed the contract with Berkeley to publish Magic
2.0 as “After Dark”, we were approached by Microsoft who wanted to do a
lucrative deal to bundle Magic with every copy of Windows. We did not accept
their vastly better offer or lucrative offers from other publishers because we
believed in honoring the contract we had signed. Years later, when
Microsoft later made their own screensavers, the first one they made was Mystify
which is a simplified version of our original Magic 1.0 animation.
After Dark was the fulfillment of the vision started with Magic. It took 8 months of 18 hour days to get Version 1.0 finished and tested to our standards with more than 40 animation modules. With a smooth user interface, rock solid engineering and many amusing animations, After Dark was an instant sensation. It wasn't just a big seller and the #1 selling software in the world for a time, it became a pop icon featured in television shows, cartoons and films all over the world. It was an overwhelming creative and financial success, particularly for Berkeley Systems which made the lion's share of the revenue and did not anticipate the success we had told them to expect. The Mac product did become a tremendous success as well, but Berkeley Systems remained Mac elitists who bristled at making most of their income from a Windows product created by people they didn't control. For example, Berkeley refused to hire anyone with PC experience, even the tech support people who were supposed to help users with the Windows product. Pretty impossible when the tech guy has never used a PC and is sitting at a Mac. After Dark v2.0 (essentially Magic 3.0) was a great deal more work and was even more popular. Our success with both Magic and After Dark turned screen savers from a tiny niche into a huge business with a vast array of competing products and add-ons such as Disney, Star Trek and Star Wars screen savers and More After Dark. Our products alone were (and are) used by about 20 million users and our screen saver developer kit allowed thousands of others to make After Dark compatible animation modules.
What Happened to After Dark
There was some unfortunate tension caused by Berkeley Systems' discomfort that their fortune depended on foreigners they did not control. As Canadians, we hardly considered ourselves foreigners, especially after we moved to silicon valley, but Software Dynamics was and is a separate Canadian company that created their cash cow. Unfortunately, after creating an incredible success and huge income stream for Berkeley, we lost control of After Dark to them. They spent a fortune creating a newer version with new developers they could control. They told us all our work was useless and easily duplicated. We disagreed. The new version without our input or approval was a failure financially and otherwise. When Berkeley's fortunes receded, they were bought by Sierra Online which was later bought by Vivendi and onward. Therefore, we don't know who currently owns After Dark.
Ironically, sales in Magic 1.x did something amazing. When we started After Dark, we stopped working on Magic and never released new revisions. When After Dark came out, we thought we killed Magic, not releasing new versions, telling all existing and prospective Magic customers to upgrade to After Dark and forget Magic. Instead, Magic sales and fan mail kept increasing at the same time that After Dark was soaring in the commercial market. Many Magic users were so satisfied that they did not want After Dark.
It's been great making products that millions of users truly enjoy. Users often tell us that our screensavers have been the only thing they've ever had on their computer that is not a cause of frustration. We've done our best to pay attention to that point. Having so many users running our software constantly has prompted us to deliver the highest level of quality in both engineering and tech support. Today, screen savers are built into every computer, but all of that was built on our ground-breaking work.