Modify classic screensavers to use with Windows 10 and 8.1 for retro fun

How to use and customize old screensavers in Windows 8.1 and 10

Modify classic screensaver for Windows 10

Ye olde screensavers

As a user of Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, I've been testing backwards compatibility of various apps and programs. As my testing progressed, I remembered I still had an ancient Windows Millennium machine. This old machine -- no longer new and shiny -- was found tucked away in a lonely corner, sporting a thin veneer of dust -- a shameful badge earned from years of neglect and disuse. Turning it on -- actually, hoping it would turn on -- I decided to look through my ancient screensavers, pick one, then see if it would work in Windows 10.

I chose the venerable Flying Windows.scr file -- explorer listed this file as having a last modified date of 6/18/2000 -- that seemed old enough. I copied the file to a USB stick.

Old Windows Me screensavers.

To my amazement, the ancient screensaver worked flawlessly in both Windows 8 and 10. So, deciding to have a bit of fun, I began examining the screensaver file using the HxD hex editor.

Based on observation, I assumed Flying Windows used the windows logo character (FFh) -- last character of the Wingdings font -- to fling through outer space. I guessed it should then be theoretically possible to change this supposed character to another character found in the Wingdings font set.

So based on this assumption -- back again on a Windows 10 box -- I opened Character Map, selected Wingdings and settled on the smiley face character, remembering its hex code value of 4A.

Smiley face character

Turning to HxD, I opened the Flying Windows.scr file saved on the USB stick. In various addresses that appeared relevant, I changed FF hex values to 4A, saving and testing every change independently, reverting back to FFh if the change had no effect. Finally, I found the address -- 1E6C -- that enabled me to transform Flying Windows to Flying Smiley Faces:  

Changing character using HxD

Modifying this single byte changed Flying Windows to display smiley faces -- as this photo illustrates:

Flying Smiley Faces screensaver

Taking it to the next level

Changing the Flying Windows screensaver to use a different Wingdings character is simple once you know where to make the change -- but what if a person wished to use a character from an entirely different font?  This too can be easily accomplished -- albeit with a little more use of a hex editor. To illustrate this procedure, I chose the alien character, found in the Webdings font.

Besides, nothing can fly through outer space quite like an alien.

Webdings alien.

As with the smiley face modification, we will again change the Windows logo character FFh value to something new. This new value is 85 -- hex value of the alien character.

Changing character value to the alien

Now, the screensaver needs an additional change to force it to use the Webdings font instead of Wingdings. Use HxD's Find feature to search for "wingdings" as shown below.

Use the Find feature to search for 'Windows'

Once found, click the right column and type "Webdings". Ensure the string is null terminated with a 00h value:

Change font name

At this point -- if saved -- the screensaver will use the Webdings alien character and function correctly. However, installed "as is" the screensaver name and settings labels will continue to display "Flying Windows" -- which would be confusing for a user to select in Control Panel. So, to make things consistent, search for all Unicode strings containing "Windows":  

Search for Windows

Replace each instance of "Windows" with the word "Aliens". Because our replacement string is one character shorter in length, an extra 00h byte value needs appended to each replacement to clear extra data and terminate the string.

Change windows to aliens

For each instance found, examine the dump closely for instances of right-padding with a space (20h) character. These are label captions so an extra space needs added to replace old character data.

For example, the label string below was changed from Number of Windows to Number of Aliens. Again, due to the shorter string length, inserting the extra space will "clean" remaining original string data and ensure the string text will render properly on the screen.

Be wary of strings padded with spaces

Although my copy of Flying Windows only had a single instance of a string padded with an additional space character, your copy could be different.

Once all changes have been made, save the file and open Windows Explorer. Rename the modified Flying Windows.scr file to Flying Aliens.scr. If you use Windows 8 or Windows 10, copy the newly named Flying Aliens file to the C:\Windows\System32 folder.

Renaming the screensaver file

Once copied, right-click the file and Install via the context menu.

Install Flying Aliens screensaver

Flying Aliens can now be selected as an option in the Screen Saver Settings dialog. For Windows 8 or Windows 10 users, this dialog is accessed from the Personalization menu in Control Panel.

Select Flying Aliens screensaver

Clicking the Settings button displays the following window. Notice how "Windows" has been replaced with "Aliens":

Options for Flying Aliens screensaver

Have fun

Try changing other retro screensavers and share your discoveries with others in the comment section.

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