Bliss

From Windows Wallpaper Wiki
Bliss
Image information
Original titleBucolic Green Hills
Licensed fromCorbis
Originates fromWestlight
PhotographerCharles O'Rear
TakenJanuary 1996
LocationSonoma County, California, United States
License typeRights-managed (no longer commercially available)
Windows information
SoftwareWindows XP (default)
Windows Server 2003
TypeWallpaper
ThemeLuna
Original filename71810
Resolution800x600
File typeBitmap (.bmp)
JPEG (.jpg) (file on disc)

Bliss, originally known as Bucolic Green Hills, is the default wallpaper of Windows XP, fully bought from Corbis by Microsoft for use as XP's main branding image. It depicts a green hill in Sonoma County, California, USA, just after the rain had went off. It was taken by Charles O'Rear in January 1996 while visiting his girlfriend. O'Rear also took XP's Red moon desert wallpaper, along with Highway Winding Through Countryside, which was used in an MSN Explorer 7 demo.

With Bliss being the default wallpaper of Windows XP and the subject of many memes, it is easily the most well known Windows wallpaper of all time, and it has been seen by millions of people all over the world. It also appears on a card in cards.dll, where it is cropped to just the clouds. Several edits have been produced over the years, as well as shots of green hills inspired by this one.

History

Background

Photographer Charles O'Rear was visiting his girlfriend Daphne Irwin in January 1996. He stopped by the side of Sonoma Highway (California State Route 12 and 121) to take a few pictures of the hills with his Mamiya RZ67 medium-format camera, including the picture that would become Bliss. During this time the hill appeared to be greener than usual as a storm had just passed and there had been other frequent winter rains. Along with that, the vineyards had been removed from the field sometime years earlier due to a phylloxera infection; both factors combined made it the perfect opportunity for him to take a memorable, dream-like photo.

He would submit it to the Westlight stock photo agency (which he co-founded with Craig Aurness, who took the XP Beta sample picture Surfer) under the name of Bucolic Green Hills (with an ID of 71810), along with a vertical variant (ID of 71811). In 1998, Bill Gates-owned Corbis would buy Westlight, incorporating their photos into their evergrowing stock photo library. Corbis scanned best-selling images and added them to the online database,[1] meaning several companies have licensed Bliss in the past, although there are not many known examples of its previous usage.

Inclusion in Windows XP

Rob Girling, the design manager of Windows XP, carried out user research, and found that there was a common preference for landscape wallpapers. Jen Shetterly was the product design lead of XP, and was involved with curating and naming the wallpapers; she advocated for Microsoft to use Bliss as the default wallpaper, as an evolution to Windows 95's clouds branding motif. Incidentally, it also fits the color scheme of the default Luna visual style.

In 2000, Microsoft contacted O'Rear via Corbis about purchasing the photo. With Bliss, Microsoft went a step further than merely licensing it: they bought the full rights to the image meaning no company would ever be able to license the photo from Corbis again, as the image was often used as part of XP's marketing and the Luna theme is modelled around its color scheme. It was purchased for an undisclosed amount of money in the low six figures; O'Rear cannot reveal the exact amount without violating a non disclosure agreement. He did not receive the full cost as Corbis handled the sale. As a result of its Microsoft acquisition, it was permanently removed from Corbis' website and has never been available on Getty Images or other sites that Corbis cross-licensed photos to. The vertical shot was also included in the acquisition, as O'Rear cannot release it due to his agreement with Microsoft.[2]

As Microsoft had now become the image's owner, O'Rear had to send them the original film along with paperwork. As the cost was so high, delivery services refused to send it, so Microsoft had to buy O'Rear a flight to their offices, where he delivered the film in person. Several Microsoft employees asked him for 10x8-inches (25.4x20.32 cm) prints of Bliss. Despite this, the version used in XP is identical to the version that was for sale on Corbis, rather than using a rescanned version by Microsoft.

Another photo taken by O'Rear, Red moon desert, appeared as the default wallpaper in several pre-release builds, most likely as a decoy. It is still likely that Bliss was always intended to be the default wallpaper, as it appeared with Luna for the first time in build 2415. The Windows XP branding wallpaper also briefly replaced Bliss as the default wallpaper during development.

Authenticity and myths

An uncropped version of Bliss (scan likely from 2016), featuring clouds, hills and grass not present in the Corbis/XP version.

The authenticity of Bliss has frequently come under scrutiny, while various myths and misconceptions surrounding the wallpaper have developed. For many years, the location of Bliss was unknown to the general public. There was a wide range of guesses as to where it was taken, including France, England, Switzerland, the North Otago region of New Zealand, southeastern of the US state of Washington, Ireland, and the Alentejo region of Portugal; the latter two are a result of the Dutch version of Windows XP naming it "Ierland" (which is the name of Ireland in Dutch) and the Portuguese (Portugal) version of XP naming it "Alentejo" respectively. Many users have speculated it is not even a real photo at all, simply being a digital composite comprising multiple photos.

Alleged edits by O'Rear, Westlight and Corbis

O'Rear himself has repeatedly claimed in interviews that the photo is entirely unedited, which has been met with skepticism. The image appears on the CD Corbis Images Creative Freedom 3, which consists of 10,000+ low res images that can be browsed using portfolio software. The description mentions "This image is potentially a composite of several images, combined to enhance its conceptual appeal.", which is found in the description of several other digital composite images, including Azul. While the use of the term "potentially" makes this more ambiguous to confirm, the presence of the description here means that it is highly likely to be a digital composite, possibly a combination of separate hill and sky photos along with further additional editing. The colors of the sky and hill in O'Rear's other shots of the same hill are also drastically different from those of Bliss, which would not make sense if they were taken during the same photo shoot, unless they were further touched up. O'Rear has also created several other digital composites, including other photos that depict grassy plains or hills.

In 2016, an uncropped version of Bliss appeared in a Toronto Star article. The metadata states it was provided directly by Microsoft; it is likely a new scan or print, featuring darker colors. This version features elements that are not fully present in the Corbis version. It is unclear if it was retouched, if the colors had faded over time or if this represents an earlier version before it went under further post-processing by O'Rear or Westlight. There are also older scans that show the missing elements from the Corbis version but feature the same colors.

Alleged edits by Microsoft

Microsoft are often falsely believed to have cropped the hill on the left and added extra saturation, however the former may have been done by Corbis when they digitized best-selling Westlight images, while the image was already saturated to begin with, either due to pre-existing edits or using the Velvia film. The original 4510x3627 TIF from Corbis has also surfaced as it was available from Fujifilm's site. It is likely the exact same copy that Microsoft purchased from Corbis, as it contains Corbis metadata and uses the Corbis RGB format (which has a rather problematic color space, resulting in some programs making it look brighter than it actually is). Like with other wallpapers included in Windows XP, the only edits Microsoft done to the image after purchasing it from Corbis were cropping and resizing it to 4:3 in 800x600, and compressing it as a JPEG.

Greg Melander, who was the lead visual designer for Windows XP, and designed the Crystal and Ripple wallpapers, claimed in 2011 to have "raised the saturation levels, adjusted a few flowers in the foreground, took out a few clouds in the sky and adjusted the mountain the far distance".[3] However, this appears to be a fabrication; Melander joined Microsoft in February 2001, and Bliss was already in builds by the previous month, and did not undergo any visual changes after that point.

Legacy

Due to it being the default wallpaper of XP, along with the image used to market the operating system, Bliss has become iconic. It is known to be one of the most viewed photos of all time, as a result of XP's success and many people not bothering to change the wallpaper. David Clark of British magazine commented on Bliss that "it's attractive, easy on the eye and doesn't detract from other items that might be on the screen are all contributing factors." He believes it was chosen as "it's an unusually inviting image of a verdant landscape and one that promotes a sense of wellbeing in desk-bound computer users."[4] In an interview with O'Rear in 2010, regarding Bliss, he stated: "I didn’t ‘create’ this. I just happened to be there at the right moment and documented it. If you are Ansel Adams and you take a particular picture of Half Dome and want the light a certain way, you manipulate the light. He was famous for going into the dark room and burning and dodging. Well, this is none of that." He also believes it will be mentioned in his obituary.[5]

As the default wallpaper of Windows XP, Bliss has become iconic in online culture. Several meme edits of Bliss have been made, along with tribute photos inspired by the original. It also has the most detailed backstory out of Windows wallpapers as a whole, as a result of both its popularity and the circumstances that led to it being shot to begin with.

Bliss also holds sentimental value for O'Rear, due to it both being his most successful image and it being taken while visiting his girlfriend. When O'Rear gave Microsoft his phone number, he hoped that they would call him to take a photo for Windows 8. This did not happen, and it is unlikely Microsoft will ever do so for later versions of Windows. With Windows 10, Microsoft hired photographers Steve McCurry and Chad Copeland instead, while Windows 11 features photorealistic CGI works by various design studios such as Six N. Five.

Variations

O'Rear's alternate shots

The shot of Bliss that appears in XP is not the only shot O'Rear took while at the hill, and there are at least three other shots from the same photoshoot. There is a vertical shot with a slightly darker sky, which was also submitted to Westlight and appears on the CD Corbis Westlight Creative Freedom. It appears that Microsoft have bought the rights to this too, as O'Rear has stated he cannot release it nor has it been made available on other stock photo sites. There are two other shots which are exclusive to O'Rear's PhotoShelter and were never available from Westlight, Corbis, or other sites. One is a horizontal shot with a darker sky and grass along with different clouds, while there is another vertical shot available too.

There are also versions of the Bliss shot used in XP that are less cropped than the Corbis version, showing more of the small hill on the left.

Microsoft edits

The original image the bull in build 5001's version of Bliss was taken from.

Throughout the years, Microsoft has created several edited versions of Bliss. Shortly after XP's release, it released a screensaver version of Bliss with different, animated clouds. Only the top of the hill is present, as the rest has been cropped off. Windows Mobile 2003's default wallpaper is also a heavily cropped version featuring new clouds and a Windows flag in the bottom right. Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition also includes a theme titled Bliss, which includes a lower res, more cropped version of Bliss with an added Windows flag, along with removing some clouds and making it brighter.

The downloadable Christmas Theme 2003 also contains two wallpapers titled Snowman and Xmas Tree, both of which feature a cropped, snowy version of Bliss with a snowman and a Christmas tree on them respectively. Similarly, in 2020 Microsoft shared a tweet showing four brightened versions of Bliss with a snow overlay added to them. A white cutout is also added on top of the hill, and progressively gets less transparent in each image.[6]

A version of Bliss with a Texas Longhorn bull humorously added to the center of the image appears in Longhorn build 5001. It is likely that the bull photo was simply sourced from a photo on the internet. As very few builds in the 50xx range have been leaked, it is unknown how long this version of Bliss was used for.

A version of Bliss also appears in Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, under the name of Energy Bliss. It is based on the original, but with a noticeably different sky and clouds, and several light effects have been added, giving it a more modern, digital look. It has also been cropped to only include the top of the hill, like with the screensaver version. It is at 1600x1200, compared to the 800x600 used by XP's wallpapers.

Shots inspired by Bliss

Over the years, various people have visited the location and took photos of the hill now, as a result of Bliss' popularity, along with taking shots of other similar hills. Simon Goldin of the Swedish photographic duo Goldin+Senneby would take a picture of the hill in November 2006 titled "After Microsoft", showing that the view is now covered in grapevines again,[7] as the phylloxera infection that led to them being removed was several years ago at this point. Another example of these photos is one by James Smith on Alamy, taken in October 2016. In 2021, YouTuber Andrew Levitt travelled to the Palouse, USA with friends to capture a series of photos very similar to Bliss, as well as to Bliss' location; these photos were released as wallpapers on his Patreon.

Microsoft New Zealand

In 2004, Microsoft New Zealand released a New Zealand-oriented version of the Bliss wallpaper with several sheep present. It was taken near Oamaru, North Otago, New Zealand by an unnamed international tourist; Jeroen Jordens of Morcomm Systems, who accompanied the tourist, recognized the strong similarity to Bliss and sent it to Microsoft New Zealand, who made it available for download and later as part of the Royale theme along with New Bliss and an unrelated wallpaper titled Bluff. It appears the lighting was altered to give it a brighter appearance. Edited versions of the wallpaper, including winter and Queen's birthday themed versions, were also released for download.

Microsoft New Zealand's downloadable Royale theme, released in 2005, uses a wallpaper titled New Bliss, rather than using Energy Bliss. It is unknown where exactly it originates, although it appears to be heavily edited and it could possibly have came from a stock photo. This wallpaper has falsely been spread on the internet as being a Longhorn wallpaper titled Aero Bliss, due to its inclusion in a Longhorn wallpaper pack on DeviantArt. It does not have any relation to Longhorn at all, and is not known to have appeared in any builds or concept demos.

Official CGI recreations

In 2021, Microsoft included a version of Bliss created with what seems to be CGI artificial fur, in the Microsoft Pride 2021 wallpaper pack. Later that year, Six N. Five were commissioned by Microsoft to create a wallpaper pack related to Windows nostalgia called Nostalgic Celebrations, including a photorealistic CGI landscape inspired by Bliss, as well as wallpapers featuring Solitaire, Clippy and Paint. These wallpapers are in 4089x2726, although 1080p versions for use as Microsoft Teams backgrounds were also released.

Names in other languages

This section is incomplete. If you have any other translations, please add them.

Language Name Translation
Arabic النعيم
An-naʿīm
Bliss
Chinese Simplified 幸福

Xìngfú

Happiness
Chinese Traditional 幸福 Happiness
Czech Nebe Sky
Danish Landskab Landscape
Dutch Ierland Ireland
Finnish Maisema Landscape
French Colline verdoyante Verdant hill
Georgian უშფოთველობა
Ushpotveloba
Serenity
German Grüne Idylle Green idyll
Greek Ευτυχία
Eftychía
Happiness
Hungarian Lanka Declivity
Italian Colline Hills
Japanese 草原
Sōgen
Grassland
Korean 초원
Chowon
Grassland
Norwegian Lykke Happiness
Polish Idylla Idyll
Portuguese (Brazil) Alegria Joy
Portuguese (Portugal) Alentejo Alentejo
Russian Безмятежность
Bezmjatežnost'
Serenity
Spanish Felicidad Happiness
Swedish Sommar Summer
Turkish Manzara Landscape
Romanian Fericire Happiness

Trivia

  • As a result of Bliss' popularity, numerous edits have been made to the wallpaper for various purposes, including various attempts to adapt it for widescreen displays, which involve either stretching or cropping the original image.
  • Due to being the default wallpaper, it is frequently referred to as simply “the Windows XP wallpaper”.
  • In 2020, a Redditor posted a picture of a Russian geography textbook featuring Bliss with lights on it. The version of Bliss featured is the original, without Corbis' cropping. It is possible this could be an instance of Bliss being licensed during 1996-98.

References

  1. Pickerell, Jim (May 20, 1998). "Corbis Acquires Westlight". Selling Stock.
  2. rozniak (September 2, 2019). "Yes, that was my photo. Agreement with Microsoft says I cannot release the image. They own it; they control it. Sorry, wish I could . . . .". Reddit.
  3. https://gregmelander.com/post/9749412313/bliss-this-photo-is-a-blast-from-my-past-i-came
  4. Clark, David (May 28, 2012). "Bliss by Charles O'Rear - Iconic Photograph". Amateur Photographer.
  5. Younger, Carolyn (January 18, 2010). "Windows XP desktop screen is a Napa image". Napa Valley Register.
  6. December 17, 2020. "Makin' it snow." Twitter.
  7. "After Microsoft". Goldin+Senneby. April 5, 2007.

External links