A screensaver (or screen saver) is a computer program that blanks the screen or fills it with moving images or patterns when the computer is not in use. The original purpose of screensavers was to prevent phosphor burn-in on CRT and plasma computer monitors (hence the name). Though modern monitors are not susceptible to this issue, screensavers are still used for other purposes. Screensavers are often set up to offer a basic layer of security, by requiring a password to re-access the device. Some screensavers use the otherwise unused computer resources to do useful work, such as processing for distributed computing projects.
Before the advent of LCD screens, most computer screens were based on cathode ray tubes (CRTs). When the same image is displayed on a CRT screen for long periods, the properties of the exposed areas of phosphor coating on the inside of the screen gradually and permanently change, eventually leading to a darkened shadow or “ghost” image on the screen, called a screen burn-in. Cathode ray televisions, oscilloscopes and other devices that use CRTs are all susceptible to phosphor burn-in, as are plasma displays to some extent.
For CRTs used in public, such as ATMs and railway ticketing machines, the risk of burn-in is especially high because a stand-by display is shown whenever the machine is not in use. Older machines designed without burn-in problems taken into consideration often display evidence of screen damage, with images or text such as “Please insert your card” (in the case of ATMs) visible even when the display changes while the machine is in use.
Blanking the screen is out of the question as the machine would appear to be out of service. In these applications, burn-in can be prevented by shifting the position of the display contents every few seconds, or by having a number of different images that are changed regularly.