Nerds Unite: What the Famous Windows XP Wallpaper Location Looks Like In 2024

It’s October 25, 2001, and Windows XP had just been released. You turn on your computer and you turn on your glass tube CRT monitor. You’re greeted with a desktop wallpaper that is so vividly blue and green that it looks fake. It’s a picture of somewhere most of us feel like we’ve spent a good part of our lives, except in a chair rather than standing in the bright green pasture. It’s “possibly the most viewed photo in history”. This photo was taken by Charles O’Rear in 1996, in Sonoma County, California.

For all of you photographers out there, the photo is allegedly unedited, and was captured with a medium format sensor. O’Rear sold it to a company that Corbis acquired in 1998. At the time, Corbis was an imaging licensing platform much like Adobe Stock, Getty Images, Shutterstock, or any of the other tens of alternatives. Corbis was then owned by Bill Gates, but it has since been sold.

So in 2000, Microsoft needed wallpapers for Windows XP (code name: Windows Whistler). Where did they turn to? Corbis! The photo of these green, rolling hills in Sonoma County ended up making the cut, and then further becoming the default wallpaper for Windows XP. The photo was dubbed “Bliss”.

How the famous location looks in 2024.

The photo also ended up being used in marketing campaigns in order to promote Windows XP. Somewhere, I have a CD or DVD in a cardboard sleeve with this picture on it, which I picked up for free at a place like CompUSA or OfficeMax back in the day. And guess what? It was part of that advertising campaign. Little did I know, I would see it in person in 2024.

Many of us computer nerds can recite an old pirated Windows XP product key. I won’t do that here, but it was (and still is) a thing.

Sadly, there are many bright green, rolling hills in the area that haven’t been turned into a vineyard that I could’ve taken a similar picture of, without the vineyard. Even to my colorblind eyes, the greens of the vegetation on these hills coupled with the bright afternoon sun made the colors just pop. I really think it would’ve been cool if Microsoft had purchased and preserved the area. But I’m sure it had either already been transformed by the unsuspecting landowners, Microsoft had no idea how iconic the scene would become, Microsoft just didn’t care, or a combination of the three. We will never know!

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    March 23, 2024

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    It’s a huge world out there, and my goal is to experience as much of it as possible.