My employer has recently issued me a MacBook Pro to play with. I have a lot of Linux experience, but I was struck by how nice the terminal looks on the Mac in full screen mode, especially when running "top". I think it'd look impressively "hackerish" as a screensaver.

Has anyone figured out a way to make this work? Of course, I'd have to disable the usual power saving mode where the display is turned off.

There's one project out there, but based on it's website it's very rough if it even works.

  • What was the project? Did you try it out? – Alistair McMillan Aug 10 '14 at 1:15
  • @AlistairMcMillan it was githib.com/lunow/terminalscreensaver which was referenced in a previous discussion here (106270, Oct 2013), in which they reported it would take a lot of work to make it functional. – Jordan Nash Aug 10 '14 at 1:23
  • Yup, unfortunately that screensaver just outputs some pre-generated text. It doesn't actually talk to anything. – Alistair McMillan Aug 10 '14 at 1:33

If you're looking for hackerish screensavers, the old Xscreensaver bundle was converted to OSX a while ago.

Nicely hacker type examples would be Sonar, AppleII, and Phosphor. Possible GLMatrix too.

However, to answer your question: https://superuser.com/questions/420546/osx-run-bash-or-app-as-the-screensaver

Write an applescript to run Terminal, run Top, and fullscreen itself. Then put that script into the app.


If you install the OS X version of XScreenSaver, the phosphor saver simulates an old phosphorous terminal display. It can be configured to run any command in the terminal display, including top:

phosphor screensaver

I find the settings -scale 2 -delay 40 -program top work quite well, and look quite "hackerish".

  • I'm looking at phosphor's Screen Saver Options panel in Settings, and I can't figure out how to start this. -scale is a flag ... to what command? – niels Jan 12 '20 at 23:35

The LookThrough screensaver does nearly what you are looking for on Mavericks and Yosemite. It permits to maintain your Mac correctly secured when at the same time you maintain on screen the actual output of a top command.

The output on screen won't be exactly a synchronous copy of what would be on screen without the screen saver. This output will be an asynchronous copy, but the delay is so small that it is perfect to avoid completly eating the CPU of your Mac and to avoid to give you the feeling to be on slow motion.

It does also let you maintain on screen whatever you want. I use it to keep on screen graphs of cacti output of network equipment performance.

If you are looking for a solution on Lion or Mountain Lion, please look at this old question Transparent locked screen.


You can use ScriptSaver, since, if you have Require password after sleep or screen saver begins enabled after IIRC OS X 10.7 you'll otherwise not see through and get a black screen (I'm on 10.8.5). Here's an example of using it to launch iTerm with top.

ScriptSaver Settings

Activation Script

tell application "iTerm" to create window with profile "Hotkey Window" command "top"

Screen Saver

LookThrough. Alternatively, JohnnyNash, Transparent.

Deactivation Script

tell application "iTerm"
close front window
end tell

If you want to save some computer memory and maybe cpu usage, here's a way to record the "hackerish" output from your Top command and use it as your screensaver.

The downside of this approach is that the sreensaver will notbe able to show any live Top data. If a live output is important, than Alex's answer is probably the best solution (excluding of course writing a program).

If however, you just want to do this for it's cool looks, the video approach will probably be a lot lighter on the system resources and can be done using official Apple programs. Plus, you won't need to run a full screen app in the background (though actually that is a pretty cool concept @Alex, and I might look into ot later for my own uses).

Anyway, here's the little walkthrough for making a screen capture screensaver:

  • This short video shows how to make a screensaver with Apple's Quartz Composer. Unfortunately, this program no longer comes with Xcode by default.

  • To get the Quartz Composer go to developer.apple.com/downloads and search for it on the home page. A list of Graphics Tools for Xcode program should come up, I installed the latest one and it works just fine on OSX 10.9.4 (I say this because the maker of the above video said that one of the older versions didn't work with his OS.)

  • You can use the QuickTime Player to record your program by going to File > New Screen Recording.

  • Record a few minutes of video, and cut/trim the video as needed to make it look good while looping by going to Edit > Split Clip and Edit > Trim. I think you can also copy-and-past your split segments as needed.

  • Export the clip in a resolution of your choosing, but if you're just recording the Terminal, you probably don't need a very high resolution.

If you do record a very long video or you want to use high resolution, your file may come out pretty large and resource-inefficient, but luckily there is a work around. In this case, I would actually recommend using a non-Apple program for the video compression. This program has been around for quite a while, and in my opinion seems to be pretty reputable. It's called HandBrake. I personally use it very often when compressing my screen captures and class lectures. If you use the right settings, it does a really great job.

If you do decide to compress your vide with HandBreak, post a comment here, and I can suggest some settings that I use for my recordings.

Hope this helps! :)

  • 1
    I've deleted all comments as the discussion seems to have come to a conclusion and doesn't add to the answer any longer. If you want to continue the discussion nevertheless, please do so in chat. – nohillside Aug 14 '14 at 5:39
  • 1
    I revoked my downvote once the answer was clarified. Sorry about that, @Vladimir. – aglasser Aug 14 '14 at 14:11

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