Finding vistas, story of Windows Vista wallpapers

If you haven’t already, check out my interview with the Flickr man himself, Hamad Darwish.

Desktop wallpapers usually meant one of three things: exotic cars, women in compromising positions, or Bliss. If you were given the job to choose only a handful of images from billions and billions of creatives available today to be part of an operating system’s desktop wallpapers, how would you choose them and which ones would you choose?

That was the daunting task appointed to Microsoft Design‘s Jenny Lam, who led the year-long search to find what would become the new set of bundled wallpapers for Windows Vista.

Windows Vista wallpapers

The end result is a stunning set of photographs and art which make up the collections of light auras, textures, paintings and vistas. You might be easily fooled to believe that these are the works of professional photographers who eat camera film for breakfast, lunch and tea, but you’d be wrong. It’s true, some of these photos did come from big stock houses such as Corbis, Getty and National Geographic, but did you also know some came from Flickr and even Microsoft employees?

Lost SensationsDestination
Photographs by Flickr user Hamad Darwish.

Some interesting statistics on the selection process:

  • About 2/3rds of the collection is licensed from stock houses.
  • There are a handful from amateur Flickr photographers (which are Jenny’s favorites).
    • Not only did Jenny ask the Flickr photographers if they could license their images, she also sent them on a commissioned photoshoot. You can find some here and here.
  • About 5 images came from Microsoft full-time employees.
  • Several that were work for hire, where Jenny art-directed a professional photographer on a shoot in Santa Barbara and NYC.
  • Evaluated over 10,000 images with over 50GBs of low-resolution images during the round 1 selection process.

This new approach to sourcing and licensing creatives is exciting not only because amateur and enthusiast now have the chance to showcase their works to millions and millions of people – something even the most prestigious art gallery cannot offer, but also recognition of community-driven websites such as Flickr for the ability to deliver quality ‘products’ equal to or even better than from traditional content companies.

Hopefully Microsoft might even consider expanding the program to allow for public submissions of photographs and creatives to be included in future editions of Windows. In a way, “Show us your Wow” is already a test-bed for user-submitted content and community feedback with over 20,000 entires submitted. Of course, there will be certain licensing and legal issues to overcome, but I bet some enthusiasts will do anything to get their works displayed on such a scale.

Certainly interesting times ahead for enthusiasts like Hamad and Thomas Hawk.

Update: Raymond Chen have some other bits about the process.

Update 2: I just did an interview with the Flickr man himself, Hamad Darwish. We talked about his life, Microsoft and his passion for photography.

86 insightful thoughts

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  2. and the result? they still look like crap compared to what OS X offers!!! They aren’t even in 2560×1600 resolution…

    Microsoft oh Microsoft…

  3. a user asked on our blog:
    “one of my favorite wallpapers, the “cherry blossom wallpaper ” was in longhorn 4075, but never made it into vista. does someone know who created the wallpaper or if it is available on the net?”

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  7. “led the year-long search to find what would become the new set of bundled wallpapers for Windows Vista.”
    How does it take a year to pick 15 pictures? They aren’t even high resolution. What a huge waste of time and money. I can’t believe someone got paid to do this.

  8. @Dre: If you would like to disable Snap Previews, you can click the “Options” link inside a preview pop-out, then click “Disable for this site” or “Disable for all sites”.

  9. I wonder how many of those 10,000 images were edited on Macs? 🙂 Well, it’s good to see all the new Vista components aren’t TOTAL OS X knockoffs the the gadgets (cough) widgets (cough)

  10. I hope that Microsoft didn’t pull the old “your work will be seen by millions so you should just give us the rights for free” trick. I hope those guys on Flickr got some good cash in return.

  11. to be honest, i’ve seen many more HDR photos taken by amateur photographers which are certainly much better and certainly much more suited for a desktop wallpaper than those selected by Microsoft, in regards to technical quality and perspective composition.

    I sort of have no idea that how could a Microsoft employee who looked through 50 gigabytes of low-resolution photographs would end up selecting this few photographs which certainly doesnt rank up there in comparison.

    well, i personally ain’t a fan of HDR photos, IMO, HDR photographers are those lost within the marvels of digital interpretion, HDR photographs are something like CG images, it loses the touch of realism and oftenly seems to portray not realism but instead, fantasy.

  12. Come on are there really people still using Windows products? Havent we all learned this one?! Zune? You ean iPod? Vista? You mean Mac OSX dont you?!

    The day when Microsoft was the ONLY real choice for computer operating systems is coming to a fast close. Macs do it better. Macs dont let you worry about viruses, spyware, pop-ups, blue screens of death….the list goes on. Mac OS X is just plain elegant and powerful. Letting you get your tasks done quickly effeciently, and most of all, just lets you worry about your stuff and not variables like viruses. Never been a virus for Mac OSX, never will be.

    Anyway, get with the times people. Anything windows sucks. And sucks bad. Half a decade to upgrade Windows XP?! 4 different versions of the OS?! And costs up to $400?!?! Roflmao! Youre kidding me right? Get Mac’s OS X and just worry about ONE version that does EVRYTHING you need. From A to Z and back again. And the cost? $129. Yep, can you imagine all this technology for under a hundred and fifty bucks? Stop wasting time pople switch to a Mac and stop supporting the copy cat Gates. Who couldnt come up with an orignal idea to save his life.

  13. my god. I was considering switching to OSX, but the more I read the smug self-righteous opinions of mac people, the more I don’t want to be one of them. Get over yourselves! The fact that you use a certain OS does not make you more intelligent, creative or interesting!

    To be more on topic – this is a great story. Kudos to MS for utilizing the creative commons. I’m sure apple wouldn’t consider deigning to use graphics created by non-apple professional designers.

  14. Bonjour, je vis en france et je voudrais savoir comment faire pour protéger une photo diffusée sur un blog , (dans le cadre de la propriété inteléctuelle), est-il possible de bloquer la fonction impression ou gravure des disques, comment faire? Merci de me répondre, éventuellement me donner les liens qui contribueront à cette réponse, valérie A

  15. I love how mactards say vista copied Mac widgets, they totally ran their own supporting software designing partner (konfabulator) right into the ground. Mac has copied more than any software company on earth and Steve and his obnoxious followers are always crying about copying. Those who feel guilty of a sin, are the first to judge others of it.

    LAME Get over yourself and realize that no one give a crap about your UNIX variant.

  16. The reason why it took a year to select the photos is because they needed to find some amateurs who shoot at a high enough quality. They know that many hobbyists do not know or care about getting fair market value for their work so inturn allows them to get photos for a lot less than if they were getting it from a professional business. There’s really no other reason to be searching for stock photos on Flickr.

  17. I don’t need a desktop wallpaper as long as I can have a plain, simple and unobtrusive blue background like it was the default with Windows 2000. Thank you & good night!!

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  20. I use Hamad’s beach-picture on my desktop and I think it’s great. It has made me want to go out and photograph some vistas myself. 🙂

    @Gustav Graves: Is the Vista desktop-image program inferior just because the pictures aren’t 2560×1600 (the widescreen images are 1920×1200 which is the 16:10 version of 1920×1080 HDTV resolution). Only the Dell and Apple 30″ widescreen monitors have that high resolution as far as I know, and 30″ monitors is still quite rare.. Maybe we can start whining about the current resolutions being inadequate in a year or two, but not now..

    PS: To all the Mac-fanatics here bashing Vista. Mac is a product that speaks for it self. You only do your community a disfavour by trashing Vista. Choice of platform and OS is really down to personal preference now since the difference between OSX, Vista and Linux is really not that great any more. If you want to sell Macs, give a person some time on your Mac and show them what’s great about it instead of dumping grief on the competition.

  21. as always mac users show their imaturity and criticize what they don´t know…

  22. It’s no use to use violent insults and/or language. I was once a die hard Microsoft fan as well. This world has choices and people for the most part are free to choose what they prefer to use. Don’t try to force your opinion down anyone’s throat. For the most part, Mac users “aren’t” snobs or self righteous whatsoever. It’s just that those who’ve experienced using Macs, especially OSX for more than just a few hours can see how well thought out it was written and how easy it is to use. This realization only occurs after using OSX for a substantial amount of time so if someone doesn’t agree with you, that’s OK. Get on with your lives. OSX’s performance is also remarkable. However…, it’s not perfect but certainly very close! Nothing is and ever will be perfect however. There “are” viruses for Macs but compared to the # of those compared to the PC platform, is almost non-existent. But as far as what’s available for the general public these days, my “opinion” is that Mac OSX and hardware outshines PCs running Microsoft. On a side note, Microsoft Office for Mac runs beautifully and seemingly more efficiently than the PC version. That too is just my own opinion based on the evidence from using it for almost a year. See? I can say some nice things about both companies. Why argue amongst each other? How childish some people can be. As far as Linux goes, Mac’s OS is a derivative of Linux and within the terminal window, understands many Linux commands. So if anything, Linux should get a lot of credit for stability concerns. The bottom line is to simply “try it” and then make your own choices without biting each other’s heads off.

  23. Flikr Is amazing. I tried to find some great car photos on Google’s images… It was terrible. Flikr is another business, and the photos in this post are truly prove it.

  24. i think hamad your are a hardworkers..i have seen your pics i really impressed to you.i did’nt know that in windows vista you capture the sights..nice work man..

  25. @mac guy:

    tell me if I got this right –

    1. vista is a copy of mac.
    2. vista sucks
    3. mac is awesome

    i guess as long as your creative it’s ok to be illogical

  26. Marketing, PR and Propaganda.

    The MAC computer is marketed as a “Cult”. So if you are weak minded idiot.. who thinks the one’s and zero’s that run around in your computer are “Magic”.. and should be considered as such. Ding Ding. You are in a cult. All the bad things the Windows people accuse you of are true.

    “I”m a PC”

    Microsoft finally throws in the towel. Now Microsoft is marketing to those same “Weak Minded Idiots”.

    Linux is the real OP system. As the years march forward.. Open Source is where the “Smart” people compute.


  27. Hello, Long Zheng!

    I apologize for responding two years after you posted your ‘blog article. I enjoyed learning about the contributors, history, and backgrounds (and I am sorry for the inane “background”/wallpaper pun) of the wallpaper images that Microsoft received or commissioned.

    I recall extensive months and months of coverage on multiple Web sites of the graphical interfaces and wallpaper images for Windows XP and Windows Vista. In each case, I preferred the earlier themes(visual styles) for XP and Vista over the final “Luna” and “Aero” interfaces that shipped,

    I ended up using “Windows Classic” with XP and Vista — and my notebook’s hardware resources, including a fast dual-core, 64-bit processor, 4-GB of RAM, and 3-D video card included to support Aero’s effects, but I would instantly void the warranty if I replaced the preinstalled 32-bit version of Vista Home Premium (although there is the issue of 64-bit drivers); plus, the notebook, a gift, is the first non-Macintosh computer that I have owned, so (1) I cannot upgrade or customize a notebook the way I’ve done with ATX towers and (2) I do not want to void a three-year warranty, which was part of the “gift package” of the notebook, nor can I use the 32-bit retail version of Vista Ultimate. (I had to escalate support problems with HP, so I have detail directly from HP. (I learned that the processor was defective, as were some motherboard components.)

    I respect people’s freedom and right to express their opinions, but I realize that some people remain determined to abuse any electronic venue in order to denigrate the operating system(s) that they do not use, especially when they have the opportunity to attack total strangers (whether they do not realize that insulting, harsh words do hurt others — although I doubt such insults would be exchanged of people had to look each other in the eyes.

    Apparently, “netiquette” died some time in the 1990s. No one writes about “trolls” and “flame bait” any more — perhaps because so many people are “screaming” at each other and good manners and courtesy are anomalies, rather than the code of accepted conduct.

    I started out using CP/M on an Altair 8800 and — because I have specialized in Web design and technical writing — I use Windows, Mac OS X, commercial versions of UNIX, starting with UNIX before SunOS became Solaris.

    I run Linux, FreeBSD, OpenSolaris, and Mac OS X on my own computers. Plus, Windows Vista was preinstalled on my HP notebook (and I’d not used Windows on my own hardware for almost 3 years). Every operating system has bugs, poorly implemented or missing features, security weaknesses, and “aesthetic challenges.”

    In an ideal world, there would be enough concern, volunteer work, and funding so that as One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) would literally be a reality (and the operating system would just be the secure, stable “glue” with an interface that is immediately intuitive to children, regardless of background or level of literacy.

    Long Zheng has shared some wonderful images that were evaluated for inclusion with Vista, but people are foaming at the mouth and hurling verbal assaults, as if the world will end because people do not share their given preference for computing platforms, or choose open-source instead of proprietary software (even if a given proprietary program is freeware).

    I appreciate Long Zheng taking the time to share these beautiful images, as well as some fascinating details.

    First of all, as long as a given image does not have a logo on it (rather it be Microsoft’s or SGI’s) such wallpapers would brighten up the screen of any monitor, regardless of the operating system.

    Second of all, Long Zheng obviously puts a great deal of effort into his blog, and foul-mouthed responses are disrespectful and “trash” the bock. (Also, rude insults that do not discuss Vista wallpapers are off-topic, for which there were consequences, back when proper “netiquitte” was expected.)

    I have a friend whose computer wallpaper automatically changes every day, although he he could change the image every hour. Ironically, he has a small monitor set at a low resolution, so he rarely even sees his computer desktop! 😉

    At least someone complemented Long Zheng’s intelligence, as well as the “smartness” of any respondents to this blog entry: “Open Source is where the ‘Smart’ people computing.”

    Long Zhen chose WordPress, “a free, open-source, “state-of-the-art publishing platform with a focus on aesthetics, Web standards, and usability. WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time.”

    As computers get smaller and more powerful, while cellular telephones have become “mobile [computing] devices,” integration is the future and a very important part of the present.



  28. I want to know the location of img17.jpg, the default wallpaper for Vista Ultimate, the photo by Dr. Robert Muntefering? What city, what mountain, what country is that a photograph of?

  29. David D.

    ‘”Apparently, “netiquette” died some time in the 1990s. No one writes about “trolls” and “flame bait” any more —
    perhaps because so many people are “screaming” at each other and good manners and courtesy are anomalies, rather than the code of accepted conduct.”

    The problem is NOW just about 50% or more Women are online. No more sharing of facts…. just a communal “Gut” feeling when you know the message is “Right”. Where communicating Online is like sitting in on an old woman’s tea party.

    It is a clear FACT that Apple uses “Cult” marketing practices. Yea.. go ahead and look it up. The use of operating system has nothing to do with USE. (as you imply)

    Generally.. the best operating system is the one you use. Open Source is what everybody should be using.. getting rid of “Political” biases.

    ..sigh.. but oh well.


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