If you don’t know the story of this week’s Tech Time Warp, this will be one of the coolest bits of trivia you’ll learn all year. Remember the out-of-the-box Windows XP wallpaper? The grassy green hills and the brilliant blue sky? Believe it or not, that was a real photograph, not a computer-generated illustration.
Of course, the photograph wasn’t taken by an amateur. “Bliss” is the late 1990s work of former National Geographic photographer Charles O’Rear, who was en route to visit his girlfriend when he spotted the idyllic vista along Highway 12 in the rolling hills of California’s wine country. He pulled over to take the photo—which he says was not enhanced via Photoshop—and later uploaded it to the photo licensing site Corbis.
His use of Corbis was a stroke of luck. The site was owned by none other than Bill Gates. One day in 2000, Microsoft contacted O’Rear about licensing the photo. O’Rear was flown to Microsoft’s offices to personally deliver the film negative in exchange for a still undisclosed amount. (O’Rear has indicated in interviews the amount was “acceptable.”)
O’Rear didn’t know his “Bliss” would become the default wallpaper for Windows XP, the operating system released in 2001 that combined the stability of Microsoft’s corporate operating system, Windows 2000, with consumer-friendly features from Windows 98 and Windows ME. It’s estimated “Bliss” has been viewed more than one billion times.
When Microsoft ended support for Windows XP in 2014, O’Rear said in an interview: “XP’s gonna go away. The photograph will not be seen as much as much as I’ve seen it in the last 12 or 13 years. Do I lose sleep over that? No. I think it’s had a wonderful ride. I’m just pleased to see it out there, thrilled to know that people have pleasure from looking at that, from looking at a photograph that I’ve made.”
Check out the many people who’ve documented their attempts to find “Bliss” on YouTube.
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Photo: iacomino FRiMAGES / Shutterstock