Software Easter eggs

How to unlock the unseen extras in computer programs and games.
 
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01.OS Easter eggs

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Since the early days of computing, tech geeks have enjoyed their own version of the traditional Easter egg hunt. Buried deep within programs, games and operating systems (OS) are hidden features called Easter eggs that were never intended to be discovered by the average user.

Most Easter eggs are simply a joke or game secretly added by the development teams. There are hundreds of secrets hidden in programs from around the world, so we gathered a few of our favourites that you can find in most modern OSs and web browsers.

Operating systems

Windows

Before the turn of the millennium, Microsoft was known for hiding Easter eggs in Windows and many of its programs. But in 2002 Microsoft adopted the Trustworthy Computer Initiative, which for security reasons put an end to these secrets. Nevertheless, although Windows doesn’t technically contain any Easter eggs, programmers have used tools within Windows to access hidden content online. 

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The old telnet network protocol can still be used on Windows 7 and 8 to watch a reimagining of Star Wars Episode IV in ASCII art (art based on the American Standard Code for Information Interchange). To watch it, connect your computer to the internet, then activate telnet by going to Control panel>Programs and features>Turn Windows features on or off. Scroll through the list, tick the box next to Telnet client and press OK. Next, open Run by pressing Windows key + R, type in telnet://towel.blinkenlights.nl and click OK to watch the movie.

Microsoft’s Excel software may focus on spreadsheets, but the 1995 release contained a rather morbid mini-game. Buried deep inside row 95, column B was a link to a first-person exploration program called The Hall of Tortured Souls. Inside the dungeon-like environment were two rooms, which contained the faces and names of the programmers. Despite the name, there were no signs of torture or brutality. But the team didn’t replicate their dark sense of humour in later version. Instead, they opted to hide a flight simulator in Excel 1997, and a racing game in Excel 2000 before the practice was officially stopped.

Mac OS Xos-tricks-emacs-tetris

The Terminal application may look too techie for the average user, but it can be a gateway to every corner of your computer if you know the correct codes. Concealed in between lines of code are about 50 retro-style games that can only be accessed with Terminal commands.

First, launch Terminal by going to Applications>Utilities>Terminal. In the Terminal window, type emacs and press Enter. This will open a hidden program called GNU emacs. Next, press Esc+X – this will allow you to type commands at the bottom of the window, adjacent to M-x. Type in a game name and press Enter to play it. Some of our favourites include Tetris, Snake, Pong, Dunnet and Doctor – a snarky psychiatrist.

Linux

There are probably hundreds of Easter eggs hidden in the multiple flavours of Linux currently available, but Ubuntu is among the most popular distribution on the market. While the internet wastes its time by concerning itself with cats, Ubuntu contains a curious cow who, when prompted, will ask you a rather personal question. To summon the brilliant Brahman, open the Terminal, type sudo apt-get moo then your password and press Enter

If cows aren’t your thing, you can use the terminal to call a locomotive instead. Open the Terminal, type sudo apt-get install sl, followed by your password and press Enter. Next, type sl and a train will come flying across the Terminal window. In the context of Easter eggs, the Linux train is no stranger than the Hall of Tortured Souls for example, but there’s a clever little joke behind it. If you try your hand at learning Linux code, one of the first commands you will encounter is ls which stands for list.

Android

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Android has a history of naming its operating systems after tasty treats, and inside each version is a nod to the snack that inspired the title. You can find these features by navigating to Settings>About phone or About tablet depending on your device. Scroll down to Android version and repeatedly tap the version number. This will eventually open one of the following features:
  • Gingerbread A somewhat macabre painting of the Android logo holding hands with a gingerbread man, surrounded by zombies on smartphones.
  • Ice Cream Sandwich In a tribute to the Nyan Cat meme, your device will show you dozens of Androids in ice-cream sandwiches, flying through space.
  • Jellybean At first you’ll see a picture of a happy-go-lucky jellybean. Hold down on his face and your device will open up a hidden mini-game where you brush jellybeans off the screen.
  • KitKat First you’ll see an upper-case K. Start spinning the K around using the touchscreen to bring up an Android version of the KitKat logo. Now hold your finger on the logo for a few seconds to open a tile-sliding game.
 
 

 

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