I was shocked to find out the Windows 10 desktop background wasn't computer generated, but a picture of lasers being shot through an actual window

WIP versions of Windows 10 desktop background with light being filtered through a physical windows 10 logo
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows 10 was a real return to form for Microsoft's ubiquitous line of operating systems following the confoundingly touchscreen-centric Windows 8, but I can't say I paid its default desktop wallpaper any mind at the time—I pretty much immediately swapped it for videogame concept art or something. But that was because I just assumed it was some kind of boring 3D render, when the actual truth is way more interesting.

It turns out Windows 10's default wallpaper is a photograph of an actual, physical installation by designer Bradley Munkowitz, also known as GMUNK. Munkowitz has a section of his website and a short YouTube video that explain how he and his team used a physical mirror, lasers, and smoke machines to produce the image, taking thousands of exposures with different color filters and combining the best into a single, final composite.

The team arranged a laser projector behind the physical Windows 10 logo, firing off various patterns into the window while playing with volumetric smoke to maximize the effect. There's a video of the thing in motion that's absolutely sick to see, and some of Munkowitz' alternate colorways and WIP versions of the background really do something for me⁠—I think it's the striking contrast against a pitch black background in most of them.

Finding out the Windows 10 desktop was made with practical effects has given me a whole new appreciation for it. Even before the advent of AI-generated imagery, I found that the sheer glut of pictures on the internet and proliferation of CGI have this cheapening effect on images, like I just default to assuming that most imagery is "fake" somehow. I never thought twice about the Windows 10 desktop because I didn't think it was "real." Now I'm kind of in love with the thing.

It's the opposite of my experience of that awful iPad commercial where Apple crushed a lot of perfectly nice musical instruments and art supplies in a hydraulic press. Seeing it in passing or just as still images, I assumed it was CGI or something and didn't see what the big deal was. But no, they actually did stage a real life carnival of needless waste to promote the new iPad.

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.