Windows 8 and its black screen with cute cats in ASCII art

Who doesn’t like cats. I’m not talking about having one at home. Or a dozen. I mean the cats themselves. See them from a safe distance. The kitten videos triumph on the internet because they cause us tenderness. Hence the success of Hello Kitty or the uwu emoticon. Well it turns out Windows 8 was going to include cats in its code. Or at least that was the idea of ​​one of the many developers who worked on the project. include cats in black screen error. Use ASCII art for this, forgotten by many but very much alive in some areas. But let’s go in parts.

Windows 8 is one such version of Windows classified as catastrophic. It is on the same list as Windows ME and Windows Vista. It’s kind of a curse that Microsoft drags around. It releases a successful Windows which gets good reviews, like Windows 95, Windows XP, Windows 7 or Windows 10, then releases an updated version which gets hits and praise everywhere. That’s what happened with Windows 8. The scale of the disaster was such that Microsoft had to release a free update, Windows 8.1, to fix the problems caused by Windows 8. But that’s another story. story.

The fact is that in every creation process, functions, elements, modules and functionalities are constantly added and removed. Is inevitable. Sometimes entire builds are suspended, resumed, suspended again and/or recycled by integrating them into other projects. This happened, for example, with Cairo windows. It was supposed to replace Windows 95, but was eventually canceled and its benefits were used for later projects such as Windows NT or Windows Vista.

Credit: Raysonho / Wikipedia

Why Windows 8

But let’s get some context before we get back to cats. Windows 8 was going to be the Successor to Windows 7. It was not an easy undertaking, since Windows 7 had become a complete success. Since released end of 2009, Windows 7 had an excellent reception. Partly because it made us forget about Windows Vista. And partly, precisely because Microsoft had repaired the mess of Vista by proposing a serious and acceptable operating system.

Thus, Windows 8 had two complicated missions. One, pass Windows 7 without falling into the cursed Windows list. And second, do the switch to touch screen and the ARM architecture for tablets and touch computers. In addition, Windows 8 begins its development before the release of Windows 7. It is a ambitious development because we are talking about completely transforming how users interact. Instead of a mouse and keyboard or trackpad, they will be able to touch the screen. And, in addition, the devices that will come out with Windows 8 will use a ARM processor, the operating system will therefore have to be adapted to this architecture. But with an added complication, Windows 8 should also continue to work on Intel/AMD-based non-touch PCs. Will they appeal to both audiences? Spoiler alert: no.

The dreaded black screen error

Developing an operating system is not an easy undertaking. In lines of code, Windows 8 has about 50 million rows in your source code. To get an idea, Windows 98, released 14 years before Windows 8, had only 18 million lines. In addition to code, you should keep in mind that an operating system should do everything. Connect computer components together, connect programs or applications with these components, prioritize their operation, allocate resources… There are so many things that can go wrong…

And when something goes wrong an error message appears On the screen. It’s the sweetest you can find. Because for years it was common to find a blue screen. The windows blue screen. A problem with a component, something had gone wrong and Windows could not continue to operate. When the blue screen appeared, we can only restart the computer, cross our fingers and hope it doesn’t happen again. And next to the blue screen, there is also the black screen. And that’s when we come back to talking about cats. Cats on a fence.

The anecdote is told by Raymond Chen on his blog The old new thing, which is part of other Microsoft developer blogs and content. Precisely in the in regards to Raymond Chen is said to have “participated in the evolution of Windows for more than 25 years”. Although Chen won’t tell us who was responsible, the developer behind Windows 8’s black screen introduced ASCII art to give a casual touch to a screen that we see when something is wrong.

This time the problem was related to the change between two layers that the user saw in Windows 8 in its version for tablets. The main layer was called To start up or Home. It was the starting point. There were boxes and rectangles that represented apps, games, widgets, etc. Tap any of these to open that app in full screen. He had gone from the Start layer to the apps.

And if there was an error in this change, between Home and Apps, there was no other option but to show a black error screen. Usual screen in the early development stages of Windows 8. So it is very possible that the idea of beautify black screen It was for internal use only. A wink or an internal game for those who were going to spend hours staring at that black screen.

Two cats on a fence

To animate this Windows 8 black screen, the developer in charge introduced some ASCII art featuring two cats on a fence. the ascii-art It consists of drawing using symbols and text. It was very popular in the days of typewriters and, of course, also in the early years of computing, when graphics cards didn’t exist and/or they were very simple.

Let’s continue with Windows 8 ASCII art. The two cats were looking at the moon. But each time the black screen of error repeated, the drawing progressed. Like an animation. With each new error screen, the original drawing changed. For example, the cats had moved their tails, the moon had sunk lower and lower… In total, nine images or frames in which the moon disappeared and one of the cats said Good night moon!“Good night, moon”, in English.

And if you were lucky, or unlucky, to see for the tenth time the Windows 8 black screen error that appeared when something was wrong in the Start and Applications layers I mentioned earlier , you have seen an animation that combines the nine images. A way to play down and play down an uncomfortable situation like something is wrong in windows. But he had a problem.

The reason for Windows 8 black screen is that something went wrong. This screen should therefore be as simple as possible. In other words. Raymong Chen says that “the performance team asked us to eliminate them” (the cats). The reason was that “ASCII art uses a monospaced font, and displaying cats was the only part of the boot sequence that used a monospaced font.

“Draw the backup window was force a font to be rasterized completely new, which cost time and memory. Time and memory for something that, if Windows 8 worked well, we would never see. And even less ten times in a row to complete the animation of the cats on the fence.

A tribute to ASCII art

Although Chen does not identify the author of the Windows 8 animated black screen that did not see the light of day in its commercial version, Chen cites the original author of the ASCII art that inspired it. Joan Starck. As I said before, this type of art was very popular in the era of typing, in the early years of computers, and also in the days Internet before 2000. Precisely, one of the many ASCII drawings created by the American Joan Stark represents two cats looking at the moon. It dates from 1998.

ASCII art stood out in an Internet plagued by focus groups like those on Usenet. Over time, Joan Stark created her own website at Geocities, now hosted at WayBackMachine. And in this link we can see the original drawing that inspires the ASCII art that appeared on the black screen of Windows 8.