What’s the difference between a screen saver and wallpaper?

I’ve had this happen to me so many times I figured it’s worth writing about it.  As a computer repair technician, I get calls from someone trying to explain what is going on and they continuously refer to their wallpaper as their screen saver and/or vice verse.  This really confuses the hell out of me as I’m sure it does many other technicians.  Rather than  get frustrated with my client, which I know most of my competitors do, I explain to them the difference.

It really makes a huge difference in some cases if you say one thing versus another.  When it comes to technology, if you are having trouble and you are trying to explain to your technician what the problem is you are having; keep it simple.  Don’t try to talk techy because you’lll probably only confuse your technician and the job will take twice as long, and trust me, they will charge for their time, or even worse, they will purchase you the wrong part and you could be stuck with restocking fees or the entire cost of the part.  Like another issues many people have is they say they need a bigger hard drive when what they really meant to say was they need more RAM/memory.  Many technicians would argue that “You said you wanted a bigger hard drive, I bought and installed a new hard drive, now you pay for the new hard drive”.  So you paid for something you didn’t want because you asked for the wrong thing, and that still didn’t fix the main issue.

OK, now that I’ve gone off on a rant, let’s answer the question in our title here.  The difference between a screen saver and wallpaper.  A screen saver is what comes on your screen after you don’t touch the keyboard and mouse for a certain amount of time. The amount of time depends on what you have it set to.  The wallpaper is the background picture/image that is showing when you have no programs open and you are looking at all the icons on your desktop.  If you don’t know what your desktop is, there’s another article to write. 🙂

Basically, your wallpaper is stationary and typically never changes or moves, although some do.  It’s only visible when no programs are open covering it up.  Your screensaver will always change and or move around on your screen and it’s purpose is to save your screen from burning an image into it when on your screen for too long.  This is why it’s called “Screen” “Saver”.  It comes on over top of everything that is open.

When a client calls me and says, my computer just rebooted and I see my screen saver now, I kinda know they couldn’t possibly see their screen saver now because they just rebooted, they probably mean their wallpaper.  When they say they can see their wallpaper, I pretty much know they are really talking about wallpaper.  So in the end, even if you can’t explain things correctly and you are really trying to, a good technician will probably be able to figure out what you are talking about, or at the very least, the technician should ask you questions to confirm you are both talking about the same thing.  My recommendation is, if you are trying to get help, don’t lead your technician off in the wrong direction by trying to talk techy.  It could cost you.  If you want to talk techy, it can help you so they know they can’t take advantage of you, but do yourself a favor and learn the proper terms first, otherwise they’ll know you have no clue what’s going on and they could take you for everything you got.

Daniel Gauthier is not only the president of Twinbytes Inc doing computer repairs and consultations but also is the author of Tech-Knowledgy where you can learn all the tech terms and what they are, what they mean, and what role they play in the computer.  This truly levels the playing field between computer techs and non-techy’s.