The location of one of the world’s most recognizable photos has been found.
The iconic Windows XP “Bliss” background, which features a green hilltop overlooked by sunny blue skies, was a staple in decorating offices and computer rooms in the 2000s. default for PCs running Windows XP for its run from 2001 to 2007.
While many may have instinctively believed this to be wrong – almost too serene to be from our chaotic world – it’s actually just outside of Sonoma, north of San Francisco, California.
The photo, which has been seen by over a billion people, was taken by photographer Charles O’Rear on a Friday afternoon in January 1996, who spotted the picture while driving to meet his girlfriend of the time. He said the photo was never altered but sold to Microsoft as is.
Since then, however, the image has appeared “everywhere”, including homes, offices and even the White House and the Kremlin.
Pictured above is the hill in Sonoma, California, photographed by Microsoft in 2001 (photo taken in 1996) and shown again today. The photographer says the photo has never been edited and was taken using a traditional camera
The hill was pictured in 1996. Photographer Charles O’Rear says he spotted the sight while driving to meet his girlfriend and jumped out of the car to take the picture. He does not remember if clouds were present before taking the photo
Above, the hill photographed today. It shows that a vineyard has now been placed in front and trees have grown behind, making it difficult to recreate the view.
The hill is just off the Carneros Highway outside of Sonoma, California. It is one of the most dangerous roads in the region
Mr O’Rear explained where the image was taken on Slate nearly 23 years after the software was released.
Windows XP was used by hundreds of millions of people when it was released and won critical acclaim for its ease of use.
It was eventually superseded by other systems such as Windows Vista and Windows Server in 2008 along with the arrival of the Apple Mac Book in 2006.
But in 2014, when Microsoft finally stopped supporting the system, some 300 million computers were believed to still be running Windows XP.
Today, about 0.1% of all computers in the world still use the system. Famous people still using it include Vladimir Putin, according to reports.
Mr. O’Rear, who still lives in Napa Valley near the iconic hill, revealed how he took the photo.
He said: “There’s a time of year here north of San Francisco where after the rains the grasses turn green and I know the chances of finding these beautiful hills are really good.”
“Every Friday afternoon, I went to visit my girlfriend near San Francisco.
“That day in January, as I was driving down this winding little road – what I call a country road – there it was.
‘[I thought] my God, the grass is perfect, it’s green, the sun is out, there are clouds.
“There might have been no clouds and by the time I parked, by the time I set up my camera, maybe the clouds came in because everything changed so quickly at this moment.
“So now I get the camera ready and here are the clouds and I do a frame, and I move on to the next one – which we don’t do digitally anymore – and he takes care of everything.”
Mr O’Rear said he took four photographs of the hill that day, which were later purchased by Microsoft.
The price was not revealed, but they were so expensive that none of the usual couriers – like FedEx – would carry them.
Eventually, Mr. O’Rear had to be flown to the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, to deliver them in person.
The image was taken on a Mamiya RZ67 camera with color Fuji film and a tripod.
Charles O’Rear said he was paid so much for the photo by Microsoft that he had to go to their headquarters to deliver it in person
Pictured above is the Carneros Highway near where the hill is
Despite claims that the image has been altered, Mr O’Rear said that was not the case, but that he used Fuji film which can help improve the colours.
Speaking about the impact the image had, he said: “I didn’t know where this was going to go.” I suspect the engineers or anyone involved in building Windows XP had no idea it would have the success it did.
“He’s everywhere as we all know, we see him in so many places.
“I saw it in the White House Situation Room, maybe a news photo too. I saw it in shots in the Kremlin where they had interviews.
“Anyone now from 15 for the rest of their life will remember this photo.”
The hill is now plowed and a vineyard has been built on the front of the plan. Trees have also grown behind the hill.
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