After Dark: The Screensaving Software that Changed Everything

After Dark

One of the famous screensavers After Dark was known for was its Flying Toasters. 

By Casey Paul
April 30, 2020

Why would anyone be interested in the history of the screensaver? I wasn't excited about it myself until I spoke with my dad. He vividly remembers installing After Dark software on his computer in 1990 and being mesmerized by the iconic flying toasters and 3D pipes. After some research, I now understand his enthusiasm.

After Dark was a screen-saving software created in 1989 by Bill Stewart, Jack Eastman, Ian MacDonald, and Patrick Beard, 1 and was later produced by Berkeley Systems, Inc. 2  Up until this time, computer interfaces were not made for the general population. After Dark was the first software package with a user interface that was easy to use, extremely intuitive, and customizable. It became famous for images of flying toasters with toasted bread. Plus, it let the user customize how toasted to make the bread, which made it extra fun. 3  

After Dark was also the first screensaver software, and it did just that – it saved screens. Because computers monitors were still in the early stages of development, images left on the screen would “burn” into the screen permanently, causing people and companies to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars in screen replacements. 4 

After Dark made a secondary unintended, but extremely valuable, impact to businesses by password protecting their screens and the data on them. This seems obvious now, but at the time, there was nothing else that had the power to do this. It was because of this versatility that After Dark soon became the #1 best-selling software in the world. 5 

  1. Tommy Thomas, “How After Dark Came to Windows,” interview by Tommy Thomas, Low End Mac, Low End Mac, February 13, 2007, text, https://lowendmac.com/2007/how-after-dark-came-to-windows/.

  2. “The History of Screensavers: The Short Version of the Story,” Software Dynamics, https://www.sdispace.com/screensaver.html.

  3. Tommy Thomas, “Aggressively Stupid: the Story Behind After Dark,” interview by Tommy Thomas, Low End Mac, Low End Mac, February 9, 2007, text, https://lowendmac.com/2007/aggressively-stupid-the-story-behind-after-dark/.

  4. Bill Stewart, “#7 UX lessons from designing After Dark (screensavers II),” Medium, February 6, 2017, https://medium.com/@bill_83947/7-ux-lessons-from-designing-after-dark-screensavers-ii-eb96b7c3032a.

  5. Bill Stewart, “The UX of Screensavers: After Dark,” Bill Stewart, October 18, 2019, http://uxfactor.ca/1151/

A short video displaying a few of the options After Dark provided for its users.

After Dark