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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OS developers aren't the only ones that know how to have fun with their software. Browsers, games and even computer components have been known to contain an Easter egg or two.


Browsers

Firefox

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Somewhere deep within Mozilla headquarters is a small group of robots that program away into the night. Hidden in the latest version of Firefox is a message from these mechanical men, who take a somewhat light-hearted approach to human-cyborg relations by promising peace and goodwill. To read their communication, type about:robots into the address bar and press Enter.

Once you’ve completed your transmission with the Mozilla robots, we recommend taking some time to familiarise yourself with the Book of Mozilla. This ancient text details the birth and formation of the web browser, chronicling the significant events in biblical form. To begin your spiritual journey, type about:mozilla into the address bar and press Enter. There’s also a detailed Wikipedia article that chronicles the long history of the book called The Book of Mozilla.

Google

os-tricks-google-gravityIf you type certain words or phrases into the Google search bar, your browser will begin to act strangely. These will work in any browser and the effects aren’t permanent, but some won’t work while Google Instant predictions are turned on. To turn these off, click Settings in the bottom-right corner of your browser followed by Search settings. Next click the circle adjacent to Never show Instant Results. Click Save and you’re ready to go.

  • Search tilt or askew to make the browser lean to the right.
  • You can even tell it to spin 360 degrees by searching do a barrel roll.
  • Or maybe you just want to watch Google collapse in on itself? Type in Google gravity and hit I’m feeling lucky to watch the home screen come crumbling down.
  • A few pop culture references are hidden in there as well. Type in what is the loneliest number and Google will of course tell you that it’s one. Ask Google, what is the answer to life the universe and everything? Douglas Adams fans should know the answer.

Video games

Video games are a treasure trove of Easter eggs, some fairly easy to find and others hidden rather cryptically deep within the code. Some of our favourites include:os-tricks-grand-theft-auto

  • RollerCoaster Tycoon: This theme park simulation game let players give custom names to park attendees. Some names would give these attendees special characteristics or cause them to act in a certain way. If players named an attendee “Chris Sawyer” the attendee >would walk around the park taking pictures. This is special because the game’s main designer and programmer was called Chris Sawyer.
  • The Sims  Livin’ Large Expansion Pack: With the right combination of items, it was possible to summon Santa. All you had to do was put a Christmas tree and a plate of cookies in the same room as a fireplace. Provided every Sim in the house was asleep before midnight, Santa would visit around 3am and place gifts under the tree.
  • Grand Theft Auto - San Andreas: At the top of the suspension bridge that connects San Fierro to Las Venturas is a small sign that reads “There are no Easter Eggs up here. Go Away.”

The Cr-48 Google Chromebook

Out of all the Easter eggs out there, this hidden message from the software engineers behind the Chromebook rates as the geekiest of them all. On the back of the Cr-48 is a small switch that turns the consumer computer into a developer model. This opens up a range of unique features including a command line that developers can use to enter special codes while the Chromebook is booting up. As you may have guessed, this gave the engineers behind the Cr-48 the opportunity to have a bit of fun with the command line.

A few nerd history buffs found out that Bill Richardson, one of the main engineers of the Cr-48, had worked on the Integrated Lights Out Management (ILOM) project for Sun Microsystems. The ILOM project boasted its own list of easter eggs and among them was the secret command xyzzy, known only to hardcore Easter egg hunters. Xyzzy has a long history as a source of cheats and Easter eggs in video games, which prompted the geeks to enter it into their Chromebook as it was booting up. Behind the code was a hidden hexadecimal message, which translated to a greeting from the development team, a few jokes and an invitation to join the Chromium Project (chromium.org). This Easter egg is pretty unique, as it’s built into the BIOS rather than the operating system or software.

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