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How to Enable and Configure Screen Savers on a Mac


Do you still use screen savers on your personal computer? Screen savers aren’t as as necessary as they once were, but if you like the look–or use them for useful things like a “word of the day”–macOS still has quite a few you can set up and configure.

Screen savers were originally designed to prevent burn-in of images on older CRT and plasma displays. By animating your screen, a screen saver ensures that static images don’t burn patterns into your display.

A rather extreme but telling case of screen burn-in. (Image courtesy of Wikipediafds)

Nowadays, this burn-in problem isn’t a problem for LCD displays, so screen savers have kind of fallen by the wayside. Still, they can be pretty cool and are a nice distraction, which is why they still come on your computer, be it a Mac, a Linux machine, or a Windows PC.

Activating and Configuring Screen Savers on macOS

Setting up a screen saver on your Mac is pretty easy, whether it’s one of the many that are included with the system, or one you downloaded and installed. To get started, first open the System Preferences and then click “Desktop & Screen Saver”.

On the Screen Saver panel, there’s a left pane where you can choose your screen saver and a right pane where you can see a small preview.

The top portion of the left pane is heavy with photo album screen savers, while the bottom is where you will find more traditional graphical and text-based types of screen savers.

For the photo album variety, you can choose a source such as predefined collections, recent photo events, or you can choose a custom folder or photo library.

Below the screen saver choices are durations you can choose for when your screen saver activates. You can set anywhere from “Never” (off) up to one hour. Also available is the option to display the clock over the top of your screen saver so that you can keep track of the time even while your desktop is hidden.

Next, check out the hot corners options. Here, each menu is a corner you can set up to perform a specific action when you drag the mouse into it. So, you can set it up to start (or disable) the screen saver, launch Mission Control, the Notification Center, and so on.

Don’t forget to check out a screen saver’s options. Not all will have options, but many will, whether it’s the ability to change the text output, colors, speed, and so on.

You’re not limited to the screen savers that only come on your Mac however, there are still plenty of options out there on the Internet.

Installing New Screen Savers on Your Mac

You might be tired of the ones that come with your computer, so set your destination for Google and search for some new ones. You can also check out Screensavers Planet or this curated list at GitHub for some awesome ones. To install a screen saver on your Mac, first download it, then open the DMG (or whatever container file it comes in) and then drag it to one of two folders.

To install the screen saver on your profile only (doesn’t require administrator privileges), drag the file to the Screen Savers folder in your Home folder.

If this folder does not exist, create it by pressing Command+Shift+N and naming it “Screen Savers”.

If you want to install the screen saver for your entire system, meaning that other users can set it on their profiles, then you will need administrator rights.

Drag the screen saver file to /Library/Screen Savers.

Then click “Authenticate” and enter your credentials (usually just your password).

Now, either way, you can select your new screen saver and it will appear on your computer after the set duration, or you move the mouse to a hot corner.

Don’t forget, you can also set your Mac screen saver to run as your desktop background with a cool little command line hack.

That about covers it. Screen savers are a pretty easy part of your Mac to grasp, but it’s still nice to know all the features and options that come with them.

Born and brainwashed as an Ohio State Buckeye, Matt Klein fancies himself a modern-day jack-of-all-trades; favorite conversation starters include operating systems, Android, BBQ, quantum physics, and roller skating.


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