Software

The Windows 10 wallpaper and other operating system special effects

Greg Shultz takes a look back at some of Microsoft's extravagant operating system special effects.

Windows 10 wallpaper

Over the holiday weekend, I visited the Blogging Windows site and watched the Windows 10 Hero Desktop Image | Behind the Scenes video that chronicles the making of the amazing new Windows desktop wallpaper that appears in Build 10162, which is the most recent build of the Windows 10 Pro Insider Preview. To create this distinctive piece of art for their new operating system, Microsoft contracted with Bradley G. Munkowitz, a Design Director for the motion graphics industry, who is known for his work with Adobe Logo Remix, the title sequence for the Flash On The Beach conference, and creating holographic content for the feature film TRON: Legacy; just to name a few of his endeavors. Seeing how the Windows 10 Hero Desktop Image was created makes for a very interesting experience, and I encourage everyone interested in Windows 10 to take a look at it.

As I watched the video, I was reminded that this isn't the first time that Microsoft has gone all out on some kind of special effects feature for a new operating system. Let's take a look.

Windows 95

Back in the Windows 95 development days, Microsoft contracted with Brian Eno, a world famous musician whose extensive career includes being the synthesizer player for the band Roxy Music in the early 70's, as well as work with Talking Heads, David Bowie, and U2. His assignment was to compose a piece of music to play when the operating system started up. The only stipulation was that the piece of music be only 3.25 seconds long. The final tune came out to be 6 seconds long and is known as the Windows Sound. If you have forgotten the Windows Sound, you can hear it on YouTube.

In a June 1996 interview published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Eno was asked about his involvement with Microsoft and the Windows 95 sound project:

"The idea came up at the time when I was completely bereft of ideas. I'd been working on my own music for a while and was quite lost, actually. And I really appreciated someone coming along and saying, 'Here's a specific problem—solve it.'

"The thing from the agency said, 'We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah- blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional,' this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said 'and it must be 3 1/4 seconds long.'

"I thought this was so funny and an amazing thought to actually try to make a little piece of music. It's like making a tiny little jewel.

"In fact, I made 84 pieces. I got completely into this world of tiny, tiny little pieces of music. I was so sensitive to microseconds at the end of this that it really broke a logjam in my own work. Then when I'd finished that and I went back to working with pieces that were like three minutes long, it seemed like oceans of time."

Windows XP

In January of 1996, Charles O'Rear, a photographer who had worked with National Geographic, was driving down a country road in Napa Valley when he happened upon a wonderful landscape. He pulled off to the side of the road, put his Mamiya RZ67 film camera on its tripod and took four photographs. He later submitted his photos to Corbis, a stock photo and image licensing service founded by Bill Gates in 1989.

In late 2000 or early 2001, O'Rear says that Microsoft contacted him through his agent and asked to purchase the photo, not just license it. Microsoft wanted to own the rights to the photo and paid a pretty hefty price for it. The sum was so hefty, in fact, that when it came time for O'Rear to send the original negative to Microsoft, none of the regular shipping companies would touch it, because it was insured at such a high rate. Microsoft eventually sent O'Rear a plane ticket and he hand-delivered it to Microsoft. While O'Rear can't say how much he was paid for the photo, due to a non-disclosure agreement, it is known that it was one of the largest amounts ever paid for a single photograph.

Microsoft named the photo Bliss ( Figure A), made it the default wallpaper for Windows XP, and the rest is history.

Figure A

Figure A

The Bliss wallpaper for Windows XP.

On the day that Microsoft ended support for Windows XP, the company posted a video on YouTube titled The story behind the wallpaper we'll never forget. It's definitely worth watching!

Windows Vista

While Windows Vista caught a lot of flak for its various shortcomings, it was definitely a beautiful looking operating system with its Aero Glass UI, accompanied by features like the Live Taskbar and Flip3D. Jim Allchin, who led the Windows Vista development group, wrote in a Vista Blog:

"The Windows XP sounds were not consistent with the interface design goals of Windows Vista, so we overhauled the sounds to complement and blend with the softer, cleaner Windows Aero Glass theme and user interface elements for Windows Vista."

To create the new Vista sound, Microsoft hired Robert Fripp, from the 70's rock group King Crimson. In the late 70's, Fripp developed a musical technique, dubbed Frippertronics. The technique involved playing an electric guitar and recording the sound with a specially configured audio tape system consisting of two reel-to-reel tape recorders situated side-by-side. This created a very interesting delay sound effect. In the 90's, Fripp used digital technology to update this recording technique and rechristened it Soundscapes.

While recording the music for the Windows Vista operating system sound track, Fripp employed his Soundscapes technique. Fortunately, Microsoft's MSDN Channel 9 website created a video of the recording session titled Robert Fripp - Behind the scenes at Windows Vista recording session. While the video is kind of dark and kind of muffled, it does capture a very interesting piece of Windows history. So, check it out!

Also, if you would like to remember the Windows Vista Startup Sound, you can hear it on this YouTube clip.

What's your take?

What do you think of the new Windows 10 wallpaper? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

Also see

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox