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I am currently a software engineer at Google, where as a member of the Android platform team I build frameworks and user interfaces.

The blog here at is mostly historical; you can find more recent posts on .

Pyromania.

July 4th, 2006

(Barely) in time for the fourth of July, I’d like to announce the first release of Pyrothèque, my new fireworks screen saver for Mac OS X. Four years (off and on) in the making, it’s my favorite OS X project yet; it combines elements of the old and the new in a simple, clean presentation. In short, it’s toasty. Read on for the story.

I got the idea for Pyrothèque back in 2002, after I’d finished my first batch of screen savers: a set of homages to my favorite add-ons for the BeOS screen_blanker. In thinking about my fascination with these little distractions, my mind meandered back to 1989, the year I first got my hands on a Mac (the Pluses and SEs in the Eastern I.S. lab, to be precise). Most of the Macs ran John Lim’s free Møire screen saver, but a lucky few ran Pyro!, a saver from Fifth Generation Systems.

It was so simple: a “rocket” (really, just a handful of white pixels) appears at the bottom of the screen, scratches out a lazy parabola, and explodes into a crude ring of sparks. It was downright hypnotic. Occasionally you’d get one or two bonus explosions out of a single launch. Ka-boom!

[Aside: Those looking to take an extended trip down memory lane need look no farther than System 6 Heaven, which has copies of Møire and Pyro! available for download. Note that Pyro! is still copyrighted software, so the legality of downloading it is questionable, but—as is generally the case with abandonware—there seems to be no one left to complain.]

Pyro! inspired competitors in the (briefly profitable) commercial screensavers market; the best known of these is of course Berkeley Systems’ After Dark software (read an early review, circa 1989).

In the ensuing screen saver war, Pyro! fell behind and eventually disappeared. After Dark introduced a number of “modules”, including (in version 2.0) Ben Haller‘s Lunatic Fringe (a topic for another day); Pyro! 4.0 also introduced modules, but they were never as compelling (or as numerous) as their After Dark counterparts.

The Pyro! denouement goes like this: Symantec bought Fifth Generation in 1993, so it could acquire and destroy 5th’s competing backup software. A casualty of this was Pyro!, which Symantec quickly abandoned.

Of course, the entire business of selling a screen saver “platform” dissolved as operating systems began to include their own screen-blanking functionality. (Windows 95 was first to roll it in; BeOS had the aforementioned screen_blanker; Apple was a latecomer here, finally acquiring a screen saver service and API in Mac OS X. Hey, NeXT historians: Was BackSpace, or something similar, ever folded into the OS?) In the end, Pyro! has been (nearly) forgotten, reduced to a mere footnote in the screen saver story.

Until now, that is. A few weeks ago I dug up my old fireworks screen saver code (essentially unchanged since late 2002, when I deemed it “good enough” for my own personal use, and promptly forgot all about actually releasing it). I cleaned up the code, made it a Universal Binary, and added some flashy new effects, and the result is Pyrothèque. Go get your retro on!

17 responses

  1. Glen  

    Is there a sound option? Graphics are up to date and it looks cool. Any sound?

    comment posted at 8:38 pm on 31 Aug 2006

  2. dsandler  

    No sound as of yet. Maybe in a future release; I’ll need to go to a fireworks show and sample some SFX.

    comment posted at 11:31 pm on 31 Aug 2006

  3. Matt Schinckel  

    How about a Universal Binary of Message?

    Ah the irony of me using Message on MacOS X Intel, on the same Dell machine I used to use for BeOS back in the day…

    comment posted at 4:17 am on 24 Apr 2007

  4. Stefan  

    Hey, very nice saver! Can you add an option to disable the bright full screen flashlights? I’ve got epileptic seizures… ;-)

    comment posted at 3:57 pm on 20 Jun 2007

  5. dsandler  

    Matt: note that all the BeOS screen savers have been updated for PPC and Intel.

    comment posted at 12:15 pm on 27 Jun 2007

  6. dsandler  

    Stefan: Wow, I hadn’t even considered that those bright flashes might be a problem; I apologize. Keep an eye out on the toastycode blog for a new version of Pyrothèque, probably in the next week or so.

    comment posted at 12:16 pm on 27 Jun 2007

  7. Steve Rogers  

    Nice to meet another old-timer! I was a big fan of Møire and Lunatic Fringe…

    comment posted at 11:06 pm on 29 Jun 2007

  8. toastup! ≈ archives » Setting off the fireworks again.  

    [...] Our first product here at toastycode was Pyrothèque, a careful homage to a classic screen saver (with some fancy-pants new features as well). It was originally released July 4th, 2006, and to commemorate its appearance I wrote all about how Pyrothèque came to be, including a double-helping of Macintosh screensaver antiquarianism. [...]

    comment posted at 1:16 pm on 03 Jul 2007

  9. deadhead  

    Ahhhhh Lunatic fringe…we used to play this on an old machine we used at work to connect to the internet when we had to….soo much fun to change the sounds and the space ships using Resedit…..those were the days…..

    comment posted at 11:27 am on 23 Aug 2007

  10. toastup! ≈ archives » Introducing LCD Scrub  

    [...] Every piece of software available here at toastycode exists first and foremost because it was something I wanted to use and, finding it not to exist, had to go about creating it. Pyrothèque is a perfect example: I had fond memories of Pyro!™—perhaps the granddaddy of all screen savers—and wanted to bring its iconic B&W fireworks back for a revival. [...]

    comment posted at 12:27 am on 06 Feb 2008

  11. Lloyd Wood  

    The Mac Screensaver FAQ will be a trip down memory lane…

    comment posted at 8:35 pm on 04 Mar 2008

  12. Bryan  

    I’ve been thinking about Lunatic Fringe (and its sibling Solarian(?)) a lot lately; I recently realized that a recording of a bicycle kickstand being flipped up is probably what was used for the shield sound effect.

    comment posted at 4:33 pm on 25 May 2008

  13. Bill Steinberg  

    Nicely done, and a pretty accurate history description. (And yes, I’m that Bill Steinberg). I just wish I could see how close the classic version comes to what I coded so long ago…

    :)

    comment posted at 2:08 pm on 24 Jun 2008

  14. Bill Steinberg  

    ps Since you’re obviously interested in the history of Pyro, I thought I’d tell you how Pyro! actually came about. Steve (Brecher) was writing Suitcase at the time, and his “About…” window was just plain text. I thought it was a shame that such a great program had such a plain about box, so I told him I’d write him a new one. I coded a small fireworks display, and he liked it so much he felt it was wasted on an about box, and suggested a screen saver would be a better home. Steve wrote most of the screen saver code, and I handled most of the animation and cdev (Control Panel) code, and Pyro! 1.0 was born. Steve was a superb coder, and taught me most of what I know about coding. All of Pyro! was written in structured assembly language.

    Bill S

    comment posted at 6:33 am on 25 Jun 2008

  15. dsandler  

    Welcome and thanks for the history, Bill. I’m pretty sure that, thanks to your notes, this page is now officially the most up-to-date reference on the history of Pyro!

    comment posted at 12:43 pm on 13 Aug 2008

  16. Joe Cincotta  

    This screensaver is the bomb… I actually just love it in oldskool mode. The Macbook runs cool and I can dream of my days at University with nothing but a Mac SE and poor attitude (and maybe a Commodore 64 in the closet. Shh.)

    comment posted at 10:54 am on 06 Apr 2010

  17. Jim Taylor  

    This is a great modern day version of Pyro!™ I now have it running on my Power Mac G4 “QuickSilver” server, while the original Pyro!™ is still running on my venerable 1988 Macintosh SE/30 as well as 1993 Macintosh Color Classic.

    P.S. – for you fellow Mac users:
    “…gleaming angels of love, on Migh-ty Toast-er Wings!”(yeah, I have AD 4.0 too)

    comment posted at 4:22 pm on 04 Jul 2010

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