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As Windows XP fades into history, 'Bliss' remains in Sonoma County (w/video)

The photo was taken in Sonoma County, just west of the old Stornetta's Dairy along a treacherous stretch of Highway 121 south of Sonoma. And it was snapped by Charles O'Rear, a former National Geographic photographer who was trolling for green hillsides on a January day in 1998 and struck gold with one lucky shot.

"Bliss" is widely regarded as the most viewed picture in the world — up there with such iconic photos as the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima — considering how many computers worldwide ran on Windows XP and how long the operating system has hung around in common use.

"If you have to be known for a photograph, I guess now it ought to be this one," said O'Rear, 73, who lives in St. Helena and now specializes in taking Wine Country photos. "There's nothing unique about it. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."

Renewed attention was drawn to "Bliss" this week when Microsoft suspended tech support for Windows XP, even though an estimated 30 percent of computers in the world still depend on the 13-year-old system. O'Rear, enlisted as an ambassador for the dying system, has been fielding a flood of media queries and just got back from Australia, where Microsoft sent him on a press tour for what amounts to a very long good-bye to Bliss.

In the digital world Windows XP is a dinosaur, launched in the sensitive weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with an uplifting ad campaign featuring a regular guy soaring like Superman in the skies to a soundtrack of Madonna singing "Ray of Light."

O'Rear was on his way to San Francisco to visit his girlfriend, now his wife, Daphne Larkin, when he happened upon an emerald green hillside bathed in sunlight on the windy highway that hugs the hills between Napa and Arnold Drive.

He pulled over, set up his large format Mamiya RZ67 camera, and took four frames on Fuji film hoping to capture that perfect convergence of color, light and clouds before it vanished.

"A storm had just come through so we had this great visibility," he recalled. "Plus, we had a few white clouds that just happened to be drifting by. The brilliant colors, the blue skies, the white clouds, the clarity. Those factors were enough for me to stop and take a picture."

He submitted the photos to Corbis Images, a stock photo service in Seattle owned by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. It was at least a year or two later before the software giant approached him with an offer to buy the rights to the frame.

He's legally prohibited from disclosing the price but said, "I'm still saying 'Thank you Microsoft' and 'Thank you Corbis.'"

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