Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Screensavers

I often leave my work computer unattended. I'm a very focused individual, so when I start working on a project that takes me away from my desk, I often forget to logout or lock the computer. Thank goodness for screensavers. I currently have my screensaver setup to lock my display after a brief five minutes in order to deter onlookers and pranking hackers (hello inverted mouse and Spanish menus).

I'm a fairly young navigator in this digital relm, but I'm not too young to remember peering through an ancient portal of cathode ray tubes. Not that long ago our desks were largely occupied by these enormous boxes; on the inside, an electron gun shot particles at the phosphor on the back of the screen causing tiny points of light to appear. In order to save the phosphor screen from being permanently marked by being shot repetitively at the same point, screensavers were invented to add variety. From the endless (and impossibly designed) brick mazes to the simple bouncing balls (will they ever collide??), screensavers became an outlet for creativity and personalization.

Over fifty years ago, science fiction author Robert Heinlein predicted screensavers (and much more) in his novel Stranger in a Strange Land:

"They went to the living room; Jill sat at his feet and they applied themselves to martinis. Opposite his chair was a stereovision tank disguised as an aquarium; he switched it on, guppies and tetras gave way to the face of the well-known winchell Augustus Greaves."

No aquariums at work for me, I sport a simple "blank" screensaver. What's important to me is the "Lock screen when screensaver is active." So when I returned to my desk today after a trip to the land of the Sun (it's actually very dark and windy there, especially now that the land is owned by the Oracle), I was shocked to find my computer unlocked and vulnerable. I quickly sat down, moved my mouse towards the menu bar to check my screensaver settings... and BAM, screen locked. Weird? Then I realized that the screen didn't lock until I had moved my mouse out of my Windows 7 virtual machine into my Linux host. Looking around for a solution, I discover this.

By default, VMware Workstation prevents the host screensaver from activating when the virtual machine is in full screen mode. This would appear to be all fine and good unless you're like me and full screen doesn't mean using both monitors. I usually work with a Windows 7 VM on the left and my host on the right monitor.. so when I leave the mouse over in the VM, my host's screensaver won't activate until I move the mouse out of the VM. This would allow full access to the VM (since I'm relying on the host for the screensaver) and allow any observers to see any notifications or open programs on my host screen. A partial solution would be to add a screensaver to my VM, but this adds more annoyance when I minimize it for any length of time and have to re-authenticate.

To fix my screensaver problem, I added the following lines to my /etc/vmware/config:
mks.fullscreen.allowScreenSaver = "yes"
mks.x.screenSaverTimeout = 290


This enables the host screensaver even when the virtual machine is enabled as well as ungrabs the keyboard and mouse focus from the VM after 290 seconds (just 10 seconds under 5 minutes) insuring that the host screensaver will indeed activate after 5 minutes.

Keep your screens safe fellow navigators!

2 comments:

  1. saved my life today with this screensaver hint! thx a lot!

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  2. Excellent! You hit the problem I was having square on the head with this solution! Thanks so much!

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