I've been told several conflicting stories about the origin of the default "Bliss" wallpaper that over a billion PC users have gazed at after booting into Windows XP for the first time. One reader insisted it was from Ireland and told me he passed by that field every day, and that the cut in it was a road. Another told me it was from New Zealand, and said he could provide photographic evidence.

It turns out, however, that the Bliss background hails from Sonoma in northern California. And it was taken by a former photographer for National Geographic.

bliss_0

"Chuck O'Rear was so entranced by the green of the grass and the white clouds in the perfectly blue California sky that he pulled over and got out his camera," a Daily Mail article notes. "Never for a moment did he think the shot would become the most viewed image on the planet."

Now 69, O'Rear says that Microsoft engineers chose his shot as the default wallpaper for Windows XP and paid him an undisclosed sum for its use. He can't say how much because of a non-disclosure agreement, but there are rumors that the shot is the second-most expensive photograph ever sold. I hope so, given the exposure it got.

"I drove the same route between Napa and San Francisco a couple of times a week in 2002 or 2003 but this was January when the grass is the most brilliant green here so I jumped out and took a couple of shots and then carried on my way," he told O'Rear. But his memory must be off, since Windows XP shipped in 2001. "I had no idea when I took the photograph that anything like that could happen. It is probably the most recognized photo on the planet."

Absolutely.