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Kill all screensavers

November 29, 2005

Combine an overabundance of computing power with the natural inclination of corporate functionaries to launch useless “initiatives,” and you’ve got a toxic recipe.

Case in point: the company screensaver. Yes, I’m serious.

I was talking yesterday with the CIO of a pharmaceuticals firm. We were discussing grid computing’s potential for supporting the heavy-duty number crunching required in modern drug development. He said that while grids were theoretically attractive as a cheap means of harnessing lots of processing power, he faced a big roadblock: his company's official screensaver. It turns out that the corporate communications department created an elaborate screensaver, complete with video clips featuring the CEO, to promulgate a “corporate values” program. Installed on all the company’s PCs, the screensaver sucks up the processing cycles that might otherwise be put to a productive use – like finding a cure for cancer.

Isolated problem? Apparently not. A second CIO, overhearing our conversation, said that his company, too, had a screensaver problem. The human resources department had put together a similarly graphics-intensive screensaver that was running on all the company’s PCs. By preventing monitors and processors from going to sleep, it was sucking up a ton of electricity. He also mentioned that a recent problem with sluggish server performance had been traced to geeky screensavers being run in the corporate data center.

I did some quick research on the electricity issue. A PC with a screensaver going can use well over 100 watts of power, compared with only about 10 watts in sleep mode. An analysis by the University of New Hampshire indicates that if an organization has 5,000 PCs that run screensavers 20 hours a week, the annual power consumed by those screensavers “accounts for emissions of 750,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, 5,858 pounds of sulfur oxide, and 1,544 pounds of nitrogen oxide.” Considering that there are something like 600 million PCs in use today – and that it’s not unusual for people to leave screensavers running all night – we’re talking some big, ugly numbers.

So turn off those damn screensavers. The life you save may be your own.


The very first line captures a lot:

"...corporate functionaries to launch useless “initiatives"..."

How mnay more of these are there in how many different areas? All in the name of making a name for themselves. Trying to innovate in their personal drive to shine. Where's their management? Proabably doing the same thing.

I worked at a company once where someone launched an intitiative to keep employess. They called it the "Emploer of Choice" program. It was laughable. What it amounted to was giving out pins. It didn't address anyone's concerns: low pay, long hours, stupid management initiatives, etc. But I'm sure it did look good on someone's resume. That they took and used to climb the ladder at another company.

"Yes, I initiated a program called Employer of Choice" at my last company. It was a great success."

Posted by: ordaj at November 29, 2005 10:10 AM

ok, fair point...and while we are at it let's kill off other corporate productivity killers like meetings and group email...seriously though did you ask the two CIOs what they were doing to squeeze their 60 to 70% budget on incumbent IBM, SAP, Oracle type spend...make your savings above look like rounding erros. Or what they were doing to innovate with emerging technologies? I am a sourcing consultant and all for saving money but there are so many opportunities to transform IT budgets ...it is actually a pretty exciting time to be a CIO even if you have to grit your teeth and watch that endless loop of a CEO video on your screensaver...

Posted by: Vinnie Mirchandani at November 29, 2005 10:12 AM

I showed this post to my CIO and they said, "I would guess practically at any scale administering/enforcing this would not be cost effective. It is a good thing from an environmental perspective."

Posted by: Justin Pfister at November 29, 2005 03:44 PM

The main reason to get rid of screensavers is that they serve no purpose for monitors built in the last ten years or so. As you note in your column, monitors now have a sleep function that eliminates any need for a screen saver. In addition, it is unlikely that a monitor would be left on the same image for long enough to create any kind of burn-in under normal use.

Posted by: Scott Peterson at December 6, 2005 04:36 PM

Screen savers are useless anyway. They're only there so others can't see your work when you leave your computer for a prolonged period of time. They were originally designed for CRT monitors so that images wouldn't be "burned" onto the monitor from leaving it on and idle too long. It has no purpose now, except for the first one mentioned. It doesn't save power or energy.

Posted by: sobommer at December 17, 2005 08:01 PM

I would like to get rid of all my screen savers, but I don't know how to do that. When you get into that area, there is no place to delete them. Can someone tell me how to do this?

Posted by: James at February 18, 2006 07:51 PM

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