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

Who does not like cats. I’m not talking about having one at home. Or a dozen. I mean the cats themselves. See them at 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. Using ASCII art for this, forgotten by many but very much alive in certain areas. But let’s go by parts.

Windows 8 is one of those versions of Windows classified as disastrous. It is on the same list as Windows ME and Windows Vista. It is a kind of curse that Microsoft has been dragging. It releases a successful Windows that gets good reviews, like Windows 95, Windows XP, Windows 7, or Windows 10, and then releases an updated version that gets hits and raves all over the place. This is what happened with Windows 8. Such was the scale of the disaster that Microsoft had to release a free update, Windows 8.1, to solve the problems caused by Windows 8. But that’s another story.

The fact is that in every creation process, functions, elements, modules and features are constantly added and removed. It is unavoidable. Sometimes entire builds are paused, resumed, paused again, and/or recycled by integrating them into other projects. This is what happened, for example, with Windows Cairo. It was supposed to be the replacement for Windows 95, but in the end it was canceled and its benefits were used for later projects such as Windows NT or Windows Vista.

Credit: Raysonho / Wikipedia

The why of Windows 8

But let’s put some context before we get back to the cats. Windows 8 was going to be the Windows 7 successor. It was not an easy undertaking, since Windows 7 had become a complete success. From release late 2009, Windows 7 had a great reception. In part, because it came to make us forget about Windows Vista. And in part, precisely because Microsoft had fixed the Vista mess by offering a serious and acceptable operating system.

Thus, Windows 8 had two complicated missions. One, succeed Windows 7 without falling on the list of cursed Windows. And second, do the transition to touch screen and the ARM architecture for tablets and touch computers. What’s more, Windows 8 starts its development before Windows 7 is released. 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 are going to be released with Windows 8 will use a ARM processor, so the operating system will have to be adapted to this architecture. But with an added complication, Windows 8 should also continue to work on Intel/AMD processor-based, non-touchscreen PCs. Will they be able to please 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 lines in your source code. To get an idea, Windows 98, released 14 years before Windows 8, had only 18 million lines. In addition to the code, you have to keep in mind that an operating system has to do everything. Connect the components of the computer to each other, connect the programs or applications with those components, prioritize their operation, allocate resources… There is so much that can go wrong…

And when something goes wrong an error message appears onscreen. It is the softest we can find. Because for years, it was common to find a blue screen. The windows blue screen. A problem with some component, something had gone wrong and Windows couldn’t continue to work. When the blue screen came out, we can only restart the computer, cross our fingers and hope that it does not occur again. And next to the blue screen, there is also the black screen. And this is when we return 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 blogs and content for developers. Precisely in the about Raymond Chen is said to have “participated in the evolution of Windows for more than 25 years”. Although Chen doesn’t tell us who was responsible, the developer behind the Windows 8 black screen introduced ASCII art to give a casual touch to a screen that we see when something goes wrong.

This time, the problem had to do with the change between two layers that the user saw in Windows 8 in its version for tablets. The main layer was called Start or Home. It was the starting point. There were boxes and rectangles that represented applications, games, widgets, etc. Tapping on one of those items opened that app full screen. It had gone from the Start layer to the apps.

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

Two cats on a fence

To liven up that black screen of Windows 8, the developer in charge introduced an ASCII art starring two cats on a fence. The ascii art It consists of drawing using symbols and text. It was very popular in the era of typewriters and, of course, also in the early years of computing, when graphics cards did not exist and/or they were very simple.

Let’s continue with the ASCII art of Windows 8. The two cats were looking at the moon. But every 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 lowered more and more… In total, nine images or frames in which the moon disappeared and one of the cats said Goodnight 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 went wrong in the Start and Apps layers that I mentioned before, you saw an animation that combined the nine images. One way to play down the matter and de-dramatize an uncomfortable situation such as something wrong in windows. But she had a problem.

The reason for the Windows 8 black screen is that something has gone wrong. So that screen should 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 the cats display was the only part of the startup sequence that used a monospaced font.

“Draw the backup window was forcing rasterization of a font completely new, which was costing time and memory. Time and memory for something that, if Windows 8 worked well, we would never see. And much 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 animated black screen in Windows 8 that did not see the light of day in its retail version, Chen does cite the original author of the ASCII art that inspired it. Joan Stark. As I said before, this type of art was very popular in the age of typing, in the early years of computing, and also in the pre-2000 internet. Precisely, one of the many ASCII drawings created by the American Joan Stark is two cats looking at the moon. It dates from 1998.

ASCII art stood out in an internet that was rife with newsgroups like the ones 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.