The Purpose of Easter Eggs


by Barbara J. Feldman on September 15, 2008

If someone were to ask you what the purpose of an Easter egg was, you’d probably reply that it is something you decorate and hide or fill with goodies during Easter, then hide so children can find them.

However, in the software industry, an Easter egg takes on an entirely different meaning. When it comes to software, computer programs, DVDs, video games, and music CDs, an Easter egg has nothing to do with the holiday Easter or eggs. Instead, these Easter eggs are hidden features or applications within a software program placed there by the programmers or developers of the software program. These can be names, hidden games or tracks, or anything that was intentionally put there.

In order to be an Easter egg, certain criteria apply:

•The application must be hidden and not readily found by the user. It also must be undocumented, meaning there is no reference to it in the menu or user handbook. For example, a music CD with the selection “hidden track” on the cover would not be considered an Easter egg, since it is labeled.

•It is not harmful. Easter eggs are used purely for entertainment purposes. If finding or opening an Easter egg results in the crash of your system or deletion of certain programs, it is more likely a virus or other type of malware.

•It is found in all copies. Everyone who owns the software or program that has an Easter egg on it should be able to find it with the given set of instructions. If someone who has the same program can’t reproduce it, it is not an egg.

What is the purpose of Easter eggs?

Now that you know what Easter eggs are, you are probably wondering what the purpose of an Easter egg is. While these applications, hidden tracks, and so forth are purely for entertainment purposes, most companies don’t allow them. If found, the developers are often reprimanded for putting them into company software or programs. So why would a programmer put an Easter egg in? The following are some reasons programmers and developers put Easter eggs in their software:

•Credit for the work. Some Easter eggs may include a programmer’s name hidden somewhere within the software. This is a way to give credit to the individual, since oftentimes those who work on software programming in particular don’t get written credit for developing the application.

•Add a personal touch. Perhaps the programmer loves dolphins, so she may hide an Easter egg of a dolphin jumping in certain areas. Or, a writer may put a reference to something he or she is fond of, just because they want to and because they can.

•Inside jokes. Software programs are developed by large groups who work together closely, and often times, they will have their own inside jokes. Sometimes, jokes that only the programmers or developers would understand are used as Easter eggs.

•They want a part of it. Some Easter eggs are also the result of wanting to be seen where they are otherwise un-credited. Alfred Hitchcock was famous for this — appearing un-credited in his movies. Or, a programmer may hide an Easter egg of his caricature or name.

There are a wide range of reasons programmers and developers will enter Easter eggs into their software. These are just a few.


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