Microsoft

Unlocking the Bubbles screen saver's hidden settings in Vista

If you miss having a fun, customizable screen saver in Vista, Greg Shultz has a treat for you. Here's how to set up the Bubbles screen saver using an HTML application.

As you may recall, Microsoft first introduced OpenGL screen savers in Windows NT 3.x. At that time, my favorite screen saver quickly became 3D Pipes. Not only did this screen saver provide truly spectacular graphics due to the powerful nature of the OpenGL technology, it also offered multiple configuration settings with which to customize the display.

I had always hoped that Microsoft would add other OpenGL screen savers in subsequent versions of Windows, but they never did; the same OpenGL screen savers appeared in every version of Windows after that point. If you wanted additional screen savers, you had to purchase the Plus! packs.

So when I began experimenting with Windows Vista, I was excited about the new batch of screen savers: Aurora, Bubbles, Ribbons, Windows Energy, Windows Logo, and a revamped version of an old standard, Mystify. However, I was disappointed when I clicked the Settings button in the Screen Saver Settings dialog box (Figure A) and encountered the message shown in Figure B that the screen saver lacks customizable options. I quickly discovered that none of the new screen savers provided any configuration settings with which you could customize the display. I eventually moved on and shifted my focus to other features in the operating system.

Figure A

Figure A

In the past, clicking the Settings button allowed you to change the screen saver's appearance.

Figure B

Figure B

In Vista, there are no options that you can configure for the new screen savers.
However, I recently stumbled on an article on Long Zheng's Web site istartedsomething that I had not seen before: Registry hacks for the Windows Vista screensavers. In this article, Zheng tells of an interview he conducted with Stephen Coy, the designer of Vista's new screen savers, in which he learned that the configuration settings for Vista's screen saver were primed and ready to go but not fully implemented in the final release -- thus the alert in Figure B.

Zheng explains that the registry keys necessary to configure the screen savers in Vista exist, but are empty. He then provides several registry hacks in the form of downloadable REG files that you can use to configure several of the new screen savers.

While these registry hacks work perfectly, they offer a limited number of choices. Since I saw the potential for other interesting combinations and I'm partial to using a GUI to tweak screen saver settings, I figured that there must be a better way. I then created an HTML application (HTA) to provide a simple user interface for configuring Vista's screen savers.

In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll focus on the Bubbles screen saver. As I do, I'll describe the hidden settings that you can use to configure this new screen saver. I'll then show you how you can download and use my HTML application to tweak the Bubbles screen saver.

The Bubbles screen saver

The Bubbles screen saver provides a very pleasing display of transparent bubbles that gently float across your desktop (Figure C). As they do, the bubbles change colors and bump into the edge of the screen and bounce in the opposite direction. However, that's not all they can do.

Figure C

Figure C

In the Bubbles screen saver's default configuration, transparent bubbles float over your desktop.

The hidden settings

The Bubbles screensaver has four settings that you can use to manipulate the appearance of the Bubbles screen saver. These settings correspond to four keys that you can add to the Windows Vista registry (HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Screensavers\Bubbles)

  • The MaterialGlass registry key allows you to change the surface style of the bubbles. With a value of 1, the bubbles will appear as transparent, glass-like orbs. With a value of 0 the bubbles will appear as solid, metallic balls.
  • The ShowBubbles registry key allows you determine the background over which the bubbles float. With value of 1, the bubbles will float over the desktop. With a value of 0, the bubbles will float over a solid black background.
  • The ShowShadows registry key allows you to determine whether the bubbles show shadows on the desktop as they float across it. With a value of 1, shadows will appear below the bubbles while a value of 0 will disable the shadows.
  • The Radius registry key allows you to change the size of the bubbles. There are four settings here that range from small to huge. A value of 1100000000 gives you Small bubbles, 1110000000 gives you Medium bubbles, 11200000000 gives you Large bubbles, and 1130000000 gives you even larger, or Huge, bubbles. The smaller the size, the more bubbles there are.

The Bubbles Settings HTA

As you may know, an HTA, or a HTML Application, is an application that you can easily create using a combination of HTML, Windows Script Host, and VBScript or Jscript. The Bubbles Settings HTA uses Windows Script Host and VBScript to create the interface and automate the editing of the registry. Furthermore, since HTA apps are trusted and run via Internet Explorer, there isn't a UAC associated with running them.

After you download the Bubbles Settings package (Bubbles.zip), you can extract the file and copy it to any folder you want. Then, simply double-click the Bubbles.hta file. When you do, you'll see the main screen (Figure D).

Figure D

Figure D

The Bubbles Settings HTA allows you to alter the screen saver's display configuration.
  • In the Surface Style section, which corresponds to the MaterialGlass registry key, you can select either Transparent bubbles or Solid bubbles. (The Transparent option is the same as the screen saver's default configuration.)
  • In the Background section, which corresponds to the ShowBubbles registry key, you can select either a Transparent or Black background. (The Transparent option is the screen saver's default configuration.)
  • In the Shadows section, which corresponds to the ShowShadows registry key, you can either enable or disable shadows. Keep in mind that if you choose a Black background, you won't see shadows at all. (The Shadows option is the default configuration.)
  • In the Size section, which corresponds to the Radius registry key, you can choose between Small, Medium, Large, and Huge bubbles. Keep in mind that if you select the Small option, your screen will eventually fill up with hundreds of small bubbles. On the other hand, if you select Huge, there may be as few as two bubbles on the screen. Now, if you have multiple monitors, the Huge option will display more bubbles because there is more screen real estate to accommodate them. (The Large option is the default configuration.)

Once you make your selections, click OK. You can then test the Bubbles screen saver settings by returning to the Screen Saver Settings dialog box, selecting Bubbles in the Screen saver drop-down, and then clicking the Preview button to see what screen saver looks like. Alternately, you can simplify the testing procedure by creating a shortcut to the screen saver file (C:\Windows\Bubbles.scr) in the same folder in which you placed the Bubbles.hta file. Then, simply double-click the Bubbles.scr file to test your settings.

If you wish to return the Bubbles screen saver to its original configuration, click the Reset button.

Fun with screen savers

Microsoft had originally planned for Vista's screen savers to have settings that you could use to adjust the display, but they never fully implemented them. Using my Bubbles Settings HTA, you can now tweak the Bubbles screen saver. Would you like to see HTAs for Vista's other screen savers? Please drop by the discussion area and let us know.

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

47 comments
pepsishot
pepsishot

I seem to have a problem. I've done everything listed above just fine until being able to choose this screensaver to be active. It's not listed in my pull down menu. I've restarted after choosing my settings as Fig D shows. Help?

mwhitegrady
mwhitegrady

This is cool. A wonderful enhancement to a FREE pre-existing screen saver. THX.

Hodahvyah
Hodahvyah

After reading additional comments, I figured out what was wrong. Thank you to dagenester who solved my problem.

rsylvester
rsylvester

"However I change the ShowBubbles setting, the background is always still solid black. What could the problem be?"

hbpcc
hbpcc

does the flowBubbles is full version of vista bubbles? I found flowBubbles screensaver from net. flowBubbles has more function than vista's

blosssoms
blosssoms

Really great! Just a note though, when I set the bubbles to small after a while (when new bubbles stop coming out) it just goes crazy. Does anyone get the same effect? At first I thought something was wrong but it happens every time i run it :s I'd love trying out different settings with other screen savers!

krylersdad
krylersdad

Please, let's have more screensaver hacks. Makes Vista seem more user friendly. Thanks..

lholmer
lholmer

I've always liked screen savers and I enjoy the ability to change them. I have 2 grandsons who are around 2 1/2 years old and they just love the new way of showing the bubbles. They are always saying "Papa more bubbles." So please do more. Just a note, it also worked on my XP sp2 computer. Thanks so much and keep up the good work.

Ron1
Ron1

Great little article. It's always good to have a little fun when using this stuff and some of us learn from it as well. Please give us more.

tricare
tricare

Worked great. Thanks to all. Dick Carey

cheerfulheart1530
cheerfulheart1530

That's great! I had wondered why they couldn't be changed. But it turns out they can! Thanks for this article and HTA. DO MORE!!! Screen savers get boring after a while.

WoW > Work
WoW > Work

Being able to alter these screen savers is nice. And anyone who thinks these are a waste of time are probably the ones who think computers shouldn't be used to play games or don't have any entertainment value. Sure these aren't essential tips, but does every tip TR puts out need to be essential for business purposes? It's not as though this article was published with the words "MUST HAVE VISTA TIP." Stop being lame killjoys.

treewillow3
treewillow3

Great change! Adding music to this would be nice. Any ideas?

treewillow3
treewillow3

Great change! Adding music to this would be great as well. Any ideas on how to do that?

ftemplin1465
ftemplin1465

Thanks for the info. And reading the comments is always part of the fun and education - discounting the occasional, strange brickbats that are tossed into the group.

jschafer4
jschafer4

I love it! Thanks! I need a bit of a break from time to time, and this type of article lends itself to further understanding of screen savers and that options do exist for them. Thanks very much and I will read TR more now!

joanne.carr
joanne.carr

I love it, thanks. I use the bubbles screensaver and enjoy watching them, sometimes just to watch my cats chase them across the monitors. I would greatly enjoy knowing how to tweak the other screensavers. I think this is a very helpful article and download.

dvonj
dvonj

TR is slowly losing value for me.

ginkep
ginkep

Another bells and whistles. But no real use.

tim uk
tim uk

Wouldn't using a transparent floating thingy as a scrrensaver mean your screen still got the underlying images burnt into it anyway??? Or maybe I'm being a tad dim today, it is Friday after all

Dennis.Keeling
Dennis.Keeling

What a waste of time screen savers are and the waste of an article.

Geeves
Geeves

I have ran this program, and when I have changed the name to bubbles.hta all I still get is a notepad document

ServiceTech
ServiceTech

"With a value of 1, the bubbles will appear as transparent, glass-like orbs. With a value of 1 the bubbles will appear as solid, metallic balls. " Which is which? Thanks!

hbpcc
hbpcc

I found flowBubbles screensaver from net. flowBubbles has more function than vista's

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

Yes, when the smallest bubbles fill up the screen, they begin rapidly moving around the screen as they pick up speed after bouncing off the edges of the screen and each other. Just a side effect of the very small size, as far as I can tell.

for_merlin
for_merlin

I love Easter eggs, but this is better than Easter eggs. What do we call these undocumented tools in Windows? More please.

dansaliveagain
dansaliveagain

I read everybodies replies and I find this very interesting. can anybody tell me how I can create a screensaver like this from beginning to end. And instead of bubbles it you can build it with other images??? Is there a screensaver construction software i can use to build it??? thanks in advance :D

allanrockwell
allanrockwell

I had to read the whole thread to make sure no one had mentionned WinBubbles, which is an O.K. tweaker that seemed to originate in this very concept of exploiting the non-installed screensaver's functions: http://unlockforus.blogspot.com/2007/11/winbubbles-features-gap.html and: http://www.softpedia.com/get/PORTABLE-SOFTWARE/System/System-Enhancements/WinBubbles-Lite.shtml >>> The developper, Lawrence Albert, also developed... RegDevelop for creating customization programs. And also you can add some parameters in the registry by following "our friend Vishal"... http://www.askvg.com/how-to-customize-tweak-windows-vista-screensavers-using-registry/ Enjoy.

timmycb
timmycb

...and please ignore the naysayers. If you are so hard core that you can't relax with a little doodad like this, well, I guess you could just ignore it. And for those who thought the article was/is a waste of time, the title was certainy self explanatory - why did you waste your own time reading it? Seriously - some of you folks really need a vacation or something.....

paladin2
paladin2

My understanding of it is LCD (or with my laptop LEDs) don''t 'burn in'. At least something like that.

william.j.douglass
william.j.douglass

True, it's not so much a "screen SAVER" as others.. Monitors nowadays aren't as prone to burn-in as older ones though..

davdun75
davdun75

For those curious about the workings of the OS, this is an interesting article. The features described are obviously missed by new users to Vista. Interesting as well Dennis.Keeling would "waste time" following the link...

zynn
zynn

I really don't use screensavers, but to say this is a waste of time and an article are a bit harsh. Perhaps rather than view it as a screensaver just relish in the fact that there are hidden possibilities in the OS that are just fun to find. Sort of like being a fortune hunter for "little known hidden tweaks." Where has the sense of adventure gone? People are so cynical!

dagenester
dagenester

Go into Tools-Folder Options, and under the View tab, UNCHECK Hide File Extensions. I bet right now you have a Bubbles.hta.txt file. Rename to Bubbles.hta. --DaGenester

RickC998
RickC998

Personally, I would like to see HTAs for Vista?s other screen savers. Frivolous? Perhaps... but still interesting to someone who likes to tinker under the hood.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

It should have read: With a value of 1, the bubbles will appear as transparent, glass-like orbs. With a value of 0 the bubbles will appear as solid, metallic balls.

helpdeskdude
helpdeskdude

Welcome to the real world. Rude, Crude and socially unacceptable. When was the last time you went to a movie theater? Stop for a minute and look and listen to the people aroung you using their cell phone,texting, chewing food with their mouth open, kids jabbering, babies crying and no one give a crap. I can understand his point.

dkeefer
dkeefer

How about hypocritical? I think that a person that has the time to waste writing about a waste of time has to be a hypocrit, maybe a cynic as well of course. I enjoyed the article, yes it it not the best use of ones time however we all need a distraction now and then.

Geeves
Geeves

I have renamed the file properly, but still get the note pad coming up, the icon changes to an application icon but when launched all i get is the note pad document. I am running vista home premium... anybody see something that needs to be done here i have done all.. it is straight forward i know

paladin2
paladin2

The subject line pretty much covers it. I'm running Windows 7RC on a dual boot and I'm not a screen saver fanatic or anything but do think the bubbles are cool. And since I'll be using XP till I die, can I import the bubble show to XP? That would be cooler yet.

Leee
Leee

Thanks, ServiceTech, for your eagle eyes and to Greg for letting us know the right values!

CreepinJesus
CreepinJesus

Its a security measure in Vista. I had the same problem with a VB script, and the installation HTA for Visual Studio. For the HTA file, you need to open it with Internet Explorer (or whichever browser you use, I guess). They're HTML applications. I think wscript will work, too (in a command prompt).

timmycb
timmycb

While you have it open in notepad, just save it as bubbles2.hta. Then close and see if bubbles2.hta opens properly.

paladin2
paladin2

I paid 10 bucks for flowbubbles, the same Vista/Win7 bubbles but with cool optional settings. Number of bubbles, size of bubbles, shape and pictures in the bubbles. Never thought I'd pay for a SS but there's always a first time.