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After Microsoft

After Microsoft

Download After Microsoft as desktop image (JPEG 800×600)


The most distributed image ever is being phased out. What remains is a hill in Sonoma Valley, California. In the context of this project we have re-visited the hill. “After Microsoft” tells the story of a January day in the late 90′s when the hill came to coincide with a global branding strategy.

After Microsoft has been exhibited as an installation piece, including a projection of the re-photographed view together with a voice-over. Following is the transcript of the voice-over:

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The most distributed image ever is being phased out. What remains is a hill in Sonoma Valley, California.

Charles O’Rear used to pass that hill almost daily between his home in Napa and his wife, Daphne, who lived in Marin County. He always carried his medium format camera.

It was hard even to slow down on highway 12/121. But one day, it must have been in January, he pulled over. After about a month of rain the sun comes up, and there is beautiful green grass. The weather during the winter can change dramatically. A break in the storm. Intense blue sky with cumulus clouds. Maybe later that day it rained.

Blue was an important brand color already in ’95. Clouds and sky being a common theme in many aspects of the product’s identity and collateral. Illustrating potential and opportunity.

Continuing the cloud theme, but with added grounding. The horizon gives a sense of scale to the image. Makes it possible to imagine being there.

Because of the danger of that road and where he was standing, he didn’t take a tripod. His camera, when handheld, needed to be shot at least at a five-hundredth of a second. Whatever that translates into on a sunny day. Probably 500 at 5.6.

With property prices in Sonoma reaching $75,000 per acre for bare land, most hills were being developed into vineyards or homes. On this hill grapevines had been planted. But in the early 90’s a Phylloxera bug infested the grapes and made them unusable. The entire vineyard had to be pulled out. For a few years the hill was covered with grass. Green at the time of the photograph.

Green was the second main color in the branding scheme and in the User Interface. Running late in the product development cycle. Looking for a nature shot. “The reality of real life”. The image matched the brand colors. It fell completely into place, in terms of sky, clouds, blue plus the green field.

By the time the image was purchased, grapes had been planted again on the hill in Sonoma Valley.


Based on interviews with photographer Charles O’Rear and Microsoft Design Team representative Tjeerd Hoek, as well as email exchanges with Eileen Crane at the Carneros Wine Alliance, Susan Kim at Corbis, Denise Phillips at Microsoft Licensing, Christofer Björkvall at Microsoft Sweden, and Casey Boggs and Beth Naidis at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. With additional information from Wikipedia and other web sites that I no longer remember.

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After Microsoft installation view

After Microsoft, installation view, La Vitrine, Paris, 2007

After Microsoft: A response by Rick Prelinger, Kadist, San Francisco, 2011

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