Ever wonder what photograph has seen the most circulation in human history? Could it be a beautiful piece of artistry from the cover of National Geographic or a must-see rendition of a celebrity on the New Yorker or Time Magazine?
If you guessed any of those, you’d be wrong.
Most likely, the most-viewed photograph is Bliss, a beautiful landscape photo taken in Sonoma County, California that is instantly recognizable to all Windows users as the default background for Windows XP – the most-used and longest-running Windows operating system so far.
Bliss was taken by photographer Charles O’Rear using a medium-format camera at the side of a highway in Sonoma County. For posterity, he recorded the exact location as 3101 Freemont Dr. (Sonoma Highway), Sonoma, California (38.250124, -122.410817). He sold the photograph to Microsoft for an undisclosed “extraordinary amount” and it first appeared on the Windows OS in 2002.
Since then, it’s been viewed by over a billion people, by best estimates, and is still considered an iconic symbol of Microsoft’s Windows.
The photograph has been recreated by thousands of photographers. The hill is part of a vineyard, with O’Rear’s original obviously being taken in mid-spring when the vines are richly green. Cloud cover is another hard thing to catch, since most of the time, this area of California is heavily overcast in the spring months and then generally almost completely clear the rest of the summer.
A close approximation comes from Google’s Street View camera capture on May 19, 2011:
When Windows 8 releases, this type of photographic backdrop will become a less-emphasized part of desktops around the world. This is because Windows is moving to a more iPhone-like interface and icons will no dominate the desktop screen.