More help in your search for that perfect holiday gift:
Berkeley Systems recently released the 4.0 version of its best-selling After Dark screen saver.
Years ago, computer screens were susceptible to burn-in. If a still image remained on the screen too long, the phosphorus coating would become permanently etched with a ghostly outline.
To prevent burn-in, the screen saver was born. It senses whether any activity, such as typing on the keyboard, is taking place. After a certain period of inactivity, the screen saver blanks out the screen. When activity resumes, it restores the display.
But a blank screen could mislead you into thinking your computer is turned off, so screen savers displayed some sort of animation. (Animated displays don't cause burn-in, since pixels are constantly being toggled on and off.)
Today's screens aren't subject to burn-in, yet the desire for clever screen-saver animations continues to grow. And After Dark 4.0 really delivers, with more than 20 brand-new displays.
An all-time favorite is Fish, which simulates an aquarium. With 4.0, Fish attains near-photographic quality. The fish swim aimlessly with a fluid motion so realistic that you're tempted to tap on the glass. Stereo underwater audio provides the bubbling sounds, chimes and a whale song. The day-to-day stress just melts away.
Messages has to be the spookiest I've ever seen. First, you type in whatever message you want to display, such as "Out to Lunch."
When activated, the screen appears to fog over; then, from behind the glass, a disembodied arm fades into view. As it approaches the screen, it extends its index finger and begins to write your message in the fogged glass!
You even hear squeegee sounds as the fingertip presses on the damp glass. It's enough to give goose-bumps and is guaranteed to get everyone's attention.
CYb3r is my personal favorite because it makes your computer look like it's doing something very high-tech when it's not really doing anything.
It displays all sorts of bizarre binary numbers, bar codes, scanning cross-hairs and geometric shapes, along with a deep rumble, filtered voices, computer beeps and buzzes. An occasional cryptic phrase, such as "download commencing," encourages queries as to what your computer is doing.
Falling into the cute category are Flying Toasters, Hula Twins, Bad Dog and Super Guy. In the game category, Rock Paper Scissors plays like the real thing.
Time Flies is a digital clock that works much like those Transformer machines. Each digit is a mechanical machine in the shape of a number that pulses with activity. As the digit changes, it mutates into another machine, with all the whirs and clanks.
Finally, After Dark 4.0 brings Internet functionality with After Dark Online, a collection of modules that bring news and information to your desktop. Sources include Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.
Simply click on stories you'd like to read. There's also a running tickertape of stock quotes and sports scores. You have full control over customizing the news reports and the frequency with which they're updated.
For those with earlier After Dark versions, 4.0 organizes and groups your screen-saver collections. It's on a hybrid CD for Windows 95 and Macintosh and sells for $29.99.
Contact Berkeley Systems at (510) 540-5535.
Craig Crossman is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Write him at Business Monday, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Please include your phone number.