Even though Windows XP is no longer sold or officially supported, according to figures from Net Applications, it’s still one of the three most used computer operating systems on the planet. Not bad for a piece of software that was first launched back in 2001.
As a consequence of its success, the Windows XP default background screen has become one of the most known photographs on planet Earth. So where does the picture actually come from?
In January 1998, photographer Charles O’Rear was driving from his home in Napa Valley to his girlfriend’s house north of San Francisco when he stopped to take a photograph. Millions have seen it but probably never imagined it was real.
The green of the rolling hill and the bright blue of the Sonoma County sky looked too saturated to be true. Many viewers thought the image was computer-generated when it debuted in 2001 as wallpaper for Microsoft’s XP operating system.
The photo was taken in 1996, years before Windows XP launched, and before the area was converted into a vineyard. In fact, a photo taken 10 years later from exactly the same spot where Bliss was shot, shows a disappointingly, dreary view:
O’Rear won’t say what he was paid for the photo’s use – but he got on an airplane to deliver the original himself after FedEx said it was too valuable to ship, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Taken with a medium format camera, the most surprising fact about the image is that O’Rear claims that it wasn’t digitally manipulated. The former National Geographic photographer used Fuji Velvia, the most intense colour-positive film at the time, but didn’t digitally enhance the image. O’Rear says that after the photo became famous a U.S. Agriculture employee emailed him to say that the field had been fertilized with manure from a nearby dairy farm to grow oats and rye, before being used as a cow pasture. He says that fact, together with the film, “accounted for the brilliant green.”
O’Rear, 74, married that girlfriend, Daphne Larkin, and they live in Napa Valley in Northern California. The Bliss photo was retired at the same time as Windows XP in 2010. Microsoft still owns all the rights.
Over one billion people are reckoned to have seen O’Rear’s image so far. Given Windows XP’s enduring popularity, it may yet be seen by another billion too. The Windows Vista default background? Er, let’s just say it’s been less popular…