This month marked the end of an era when Microsoft officially ended support for one of the most popular operating systems of all time. A casualty of this undertaking was Bliss, the default wallpaper of Windows XP.
The iconic photograph is considered to be the most viewed image of all time and features a serene landscape of rolling hills and fluffy clouds. The wallpaper was so popular that many people never bothered to change it as the default. Seeing it in classrooms, workplaces, or even television newsrooms was a common occurrence.
Despite its popularity, not many people know the history behind the picture. And contrary to popular belief, the image was in fact real and not altered in any way. This is quite an accomplishment when you consider most computers were using CRT monitors with very low resolution when XP first rolled out.
The man who took the picture was Charles O’Rear, a former National Geographic photographer from Napa Valley. He never had any intention to take the photograph, but pulled out his trusty Mamiya RZ67 when he noticed the perfect colors on his way to visit his girlfriend one Friday afternoon. To this day, he claims the photograph was not altered in any way.
“My God, the grass was perfect!”
— Charles O’Rear on when he saw the landscape for the first time.
After taking the photo, O’Rear sold it to Corbis — a digital imaging licensing company privately owned by Bill Gates. When it came time for XP developers to pick a stock image for their wallpaper, they settled on Bliss. They liked the image so much that they chose to buy the rights instead of licensing it.
Nobody knows the exact amount that O’Rear was paid for the picture, but it was too expensive for UPS or FedEx to ship the negative from Napa Valley to Microsoft’s headquarters in Washington. Instead, Microsoft bought O’Rear a plane ticket so he could hand-deliver the picture that would soon become one of the most recognized images of the computer age.
Windows XP was released in August 2001 and was the most widely used operating system until August 2012. And even with Microsoft discontinuing their support of XP, many people are still using it. When you consider how popular XP was and still is, it’s no surprise that Bliss is one of the greatest photographs of all time.
The image is so perfect that it’s only fitting for Microsoft to give it a worthy goodbye. Which is why they flew to the Los Angeles home of Charles O’Rear so he can tell the incredible story for himself: