When I first upgraded a PC to Windows 10 many years ago, I was greeted with the new Windows desktop wallpaper. Pretty cool, I thought. A sort of futuristic Windows icon made out of light at a 3 dimensional angle in neon blues.
I never really considered it much more than that, and assumed CGI had created it.
However, that is not true! It actually is a digital composition of the analogue work by renowned artist-technologist GMUNK. It is a composition of actual photographs taken of 4 clear sheets with beams of light being shined through it from a light mounted on a Kuka 6 axis robotic arm. Just check the video out (right) to appreciate the amount of effort and talent that went into it.
It made me start looking at the backgrounds of each OS and see the inspiration and the artistic thought behind them. If you think about it, the desktop background might be the most viewed piece of “art” in the whole world.
Windows XP’s background, “Bliss”, is an apparently unedited photograph of a hill by National Geographic photographer Charles O’Rear. It might be the most recognised image in the world (or at least between the years 2000 and 2010). There have been many attempts to recreate the image, which is of a hill now covered in grape vines in Sonoma, California.
When Microsoft ended support of XP in 2014, they released a video of “The story behind the wallpaper we’ll never forget”. Check it out below:
Other Windows Editions
Windows 8 has a fairly well recognised image, the rainbow colours which is actually quite cool the longer you look at it. Though I remember it was the “splash” screen rather than the wallpaper. Sadly Windows 8 was such a horrible experience the image creates feelings of rage for most people who know it.
Before XP, there was the 2000, ME, 98, 95, NT and earlier… Some of the images that came with these editions are incredibly nostalgic to me! Especially the “Inside your computer” one, above. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t inside anyone’s computer but what a superb image it is.
OSX started with now iconic swishy CGI art, “Aqua”, which at the time, to me was a showcase of what you could do in programs like Photoshop. From those early images, they moved through amazing composite images of space and then to pretty pictures of mountains and national parks. Rather nicely, Stephen Hackett of 512 Pixels, has made a nice resource of each OSX wallpaper in 5K resolution. We can relive the old times but in today’s high res! It seems both Apple and Windows went down the line of real photographs, which I think is commendable. I struggle to find any information about the photographers though, which is a shame. General consensus is that the photographs will be stock images taken on very high end DSLR cameras and potentially touched up on Photoshop.
OS 9 and earlier
Just like the early Windows images, the early OS ones are also very nostalgic to me. I was brought up on Powermac G3s and remember these well. The weird alien one below was my personal favourite as a child.
Brown seemed to be Ubuntu’s main inspiration in the early days. Their first desktop was literally a block of brown. A lot less inspired than the flashy cgi of OSX or the high quality photographs of Windows, but then in some ways that makes sense! Ubuntu Linux is a no nonsense, practical distribution of the FOSS Linux. OMGUbuntu have made a very nice post detailing the history of Ubuntu’s wallpapers all the way back to number 1: Ubuntu 4.10!
The story of the latest Windows 10 desktop, and reminiscing back through the ages of OS desktops before, has reinvigorated the thrill of seeing the desktop background I used to have as a child when turning on the computer blew my mind. I would like it if OS manufacturers would document how they came to the final default images they used more often. I think now I will set my laptop to use the old alien OS9 image now, to relive my youth :)