All posts by Stuart J Mackintosh

Walmart export web code as Open Source

Walmart have set an example to the retail sector with a significant export of Open Source code to supplement the 140 projects already developed by their technical team in the open.

Whilst transferring the Walmart.com retail platform to React and Node.js, Electrode was created to power the e-commerce platform which serves 80 million visitors per month and 15 million items.

Electrode

Electrode was released as an Open Source application with the OSI approved Apache 2.0 licence and can be found in the Walmart Labs Github account. It provides various developer enhancements and tools for the developer including Node.js configuration and feature management.

Header form Medium post on Walmart Labs Elecrode
Electrode from Walmart Labs

Announcement

Alex Grigoryan of Walmart Labs released a statement on Medium.com 3rd October 2016 explaining the the details of the applications and the scale that they operate at Walmart.

Alex writes about some of the challenges experienced by developers working on large projects. These include code re-use, performance and best practice. He says: “The problems we solved at @WalmartLabs, we want to solve for the community. So that’s what Electrode gives you out of the box”

In the first month following the announcement, Alex has engaged with the communities and responded to many questions asked about the software. The Github repository has already gained over 200 Github stars and contributions from the core developers are maintained on a daily basis.

Summary

Although early days for Electrode, this does look like a sincere investment in the Open Source ecosystem. On one hand, it enables other retailers to import the code and build their own competing platforms. On the other, it clearly sets Walmart as a lead innovator in this space and enables them to bring to life from contributions and enhancements submitted by external developers.

It will be interesting to see which forward-thinking retailers follow suit or collaborate in using and improving the software exported by Walmart.

Review of global Open Source policy across the public sector

The UK has benefited from the 2012 Open Standards policy which was formally reviewed in 2015, and the guidance toward selecting Open Source, as described in the official UK government IT strategy, which states “where appropriate Open Source solutions and Open Standards will be considered”. However this document is becoming outdated, as the development and use of Open Source rises, and policy needs to evolve in order to keep up with action already being taken by many organisations within the public sector.

USA

Compare this to the progressive strategy outlined by the current White House Chief Information Officer Tony Scott, a strong advocate of Open Source, who believes that technological innovation is built through collective knowledge and collaboration.

Scott’s department has released a draft Federal source code policy for public consultation by 18th April 2016 and are encouraging the wider community to provide comment. This draft requires that all custom code purchased by the Federal Government to be made available across Federal Agencies, but for now, only limited obligation to be released as Open Source software to the community.

President Obama seeks technological progress and there is a view that investing in openness will address this. The White House describe the Open Data aspirations, API’s and contributions to Open Source on their developers pages.

A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page is maintained by the US Department of Defence which aims to address the common issues that arise during selection and procurement which is generally also of benefit to non-US administrations.

India

A similar picture is emerging in other countries including India who encourage the use of Open Source over proprietary software.

Europe

Across Europe, many policies and guidance have been issued over recent years.

The French Prime Minister recommended that agencies return between 5% and 10% of savings made from the use of Open Source opposed to proprietary back to the communities as part of it’s Open Source drive.

Basque Country issued a decree in 2012 and was one of the first EU states to issue such a strong statement.

Initial Italian publications in 2012 lead to the development of criteria and guidelines in 2013 promoting importing of Open Source and the re-export of the software to other departments.

Although this is very positive progress, these policy developments focus on the importing of Open Source, with some limited obligation to share amongst other departments.

Bulgaria has lead the way with an all-round Open Source policy. Following the introduction of mandatory evaluation of Open Source solutions for government tenders in 2015, the government proposed a repository of Open Source applications which will be mirrored with Github, therefore enabling developers and other departments to interact, acquire and feed back to the software assets. The policy is currently under review in parliament and is anticipated to successfully pass in the near future.

Poland released their policy in 2016 which describes their aspiration to become an all-round Open Source government and this encompasses Open Data in addition to the software assets.

A review of EU policies and analysis of the response of 10 EU regions can be found in a 2013 document which presents the position of sharing and re-use of digital assets. A full report is available detailing the position of 30 EU nations.

Local government and departments

Such a policy applied to central government does not directly ensure that the public sector as a whole must comply. Local government, states and departments generally require their own policy to enforce such activity. A statement by USA digital working group 18F propose that their policy is extended to states and local government as described here. However the policy is likely to encourage generation of relevant Open Source software within the sector that other departments benefit from so we can expect it to be influential.

What next?

The importation of Open Source into government software projects does not ensure a two-way ecosystem, therefore failing to engage and stimulate the Open Source business, community and the benefits this may otherwise bring. Procurement and supply chain issues still need to be addressed in order to further evolve policies to reflect the needs and challenges of organisations within the public sector

At the time of writing, Open Forum Europe are working with other organisations to research the business use of Open Source across Europe. It is anticipated that this will bring more clarity to the positions of the nations outlined here as well as the first objective study of business impact of Open Source.

There is no argument that a purchaser of software and services would welcome solutions that ensured the freedoms identified by the Free Software Foundation. This has been considered a utopia and unachievable in the course of contemporary business. With the significant progress this decade toward Open Source policy, and leading nations experimenting with the all-round approach, it is now becoming more widely accepted that these freedoms will become a common expectation when acquiring software.

OSC Response to consultation: UK digital revolution

I am writing on behalf of the Open Source Consortium (the UK Open Source Industry Association) in response to the post on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, Ed Vaizey MP and Cabinet Office here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-seeks-ideas-from-public-and-industry-for-the-next-stage-in-uks-digital-revolution

Considering the advances made toward the UK digital revolution, most of the technology project successes of recent times have been largely down to the adoption of Open Source. GDS have promoted the Open Source principles that have started to enable an openly competitive market and this has allowed local businesses to compete with international conglomerates on a level playing field. A search on the gov.uk website returns 182 results in response to a query for “Open Source” with pages from a variety of departments and the gov.uk site itself being available as an Open Source asset.

The government service manual https://www.gov.uk/service-manual encourages use of Open Source and states “Use Open source software in preference to proprietary or closed source alternatives, in particular for operating systems, networking software, web servers, databases and programming languages.” Lord Bridges of Headley commented: “This policy with the sensible procurement practice has undoubtedly saved the UK tax payer a lot of money. During the last Parliament £1.7bn was saved thanks to digital transformation and the Government Digital Service cost £58m. This is therefore a very good return on investment”

It is unlikely that its possible to qualify the £1.7bn saving, however its obvious that the new Open methods have delivered benefit for the UK tax payer and will continue to do so. Future benefits will be realised when these systems are retired or extended as the data and software is available for inspection and modification, therefore enabling the negotiation of a fairer price based on the delivery of value services.

Although there are many areas where Open Source can positively impact the digital revolution, this response relates to the subject of education, with comment on both curriculum and non-curriculum benefits of Open Source.

The education sector stands to gain a great deal from investing in Open Source as the investment in systems often adds direct value to primary, secondary and higher education who have common and overlapping systems and processes. An opportunity exists for the system to become part of the teaching experience as the learner and teachers are not stifled by limitations of the system itself.

The OSC commends to the UK government the greater use of Open Source and most importantly, investment in Open Source through UK specialist Open Source companies. The following OSC members have provided specific insights in to the use of Open Source across the education sector.

A member of the OSC, Catalyst IT, has worked extensively with the New Zealand Ministry of Education and other government agencies for the provision of Open Source solutions to support operational education systems. Paul Stevens of Catalyst IT writes as follows:

Going back to 2003, the New Zealand government invested in an Open Source LMS for the New Zealand Open polytechnic. This project saw Catalyst IT www.catalyst.net.nz to select an Open Source platform to be used as a Learning Management System (LMS). The investment lead to significant development of the core application and helped Moodle to become the biggest and most adopted LMS in higher education worldwide as noted here: http://listedtech.com/free-lms-or-open-source-lms-used-in-higher-ed/

The official Moodle site states that there are almost 50,000 registered sites across 214 countries which illustrates the benefit of such investments.

Following the success of the Moodle LMS, in 2006, a similar project commenced for the selection of an e-portfolio system. The evaluation process concluded that no suitable Open Source solution was available at the time and the Open Source project Mahara.org was established to build a fit for purpose system. This investment created a basic portfolio and, with the engagement of the Open Source community and contributions from around the world, Mahara has become one of the most popular e-portfolio systems in the world. To this day the Ministry of Education still runs myportfolio.ac.nz which services lifelong e-portfolios for 1200 NZ schools.

Totara LMS has also been a similar success story with an initial modest investment by three NZ government departments in a project called MITMS. Catalyst IT, Kineo City and Guilds and Flexible Learning (later part of the Kineo Group) joined forces to create a corporate Moodle distribution called Totara LMS.

New Zealand government agencies have quickly adopted it with many now operating Totara for their training and career development. A key benefit realised is that the sharing of ideas and the costs of the developments of new features across the agencies, has enriched the product’s feature set and minimised costs, thereby delivering measurable value to the New Zealand tax payer.

The following case studies provide information on the implementation of the Totara Open Source LMS:

The New Zealand Ministry of Education invested in further Open Source projects in 2012 when they engaged Catalyst to develop the Progress and Consistency Tool (PaCT). The tool is designed to record the level of proficiency of students by their teachers and thereby help teachers increase the consistency of their judgements within schools and across the country. Written using Django, an Open Source framework, PaCT also enhances the measurement of student progress in relation to the National Standards. See PaCT for more information here: http://pactinfo.education.govt.nz/

The PaCT project presented the opportunity for New Zealand to create a world class system that is potentially re-usable by other governments and education institutions around the globe. As it has been developed on a 100% open source platform, further development by the administration will not be constrained by license or code challenges. As a further benefit, the Open nature of the application design enables full ownership and control of systems and data by the New Zealand government.

Users were vocal in their praise of the opportunity to be involved in the development of their application and the way their opinions were integrated into the design thinking. Those that are now using it, love it, and the project has been a great success.

Paul Stevens of Catalyst IT says: “Open Source needs to be a key consideration for the progression of the UK government Digital Strategy; to date the strategy has been about how to use Open Source and its competitive advantages above proprietary and closed software. The new strategy needs to look at how to engage and support the key Open Source projects and communities so that they deliver value and innovation, and grow the local economy with in-country funding of IT projects.”

Having a system like Mahara holding all of the UK student information under the management of the UK government is far safer than having the data under the control of a corporation (eg Facebook) who’s business model is to monetise data and contacts. Supporting the implementation of Open Source Management Information Systems is just one example of where significant savings could be achieved across primary, secondary and higher education with one investment.

The Learning Machine, a member of the OSC, recently announced that one of their qualifications in Open Systems is now eligible to attract league table performance points. Details here: http://www.opensourceconsortium.org/open-source-gcse-equivalent-qualification-attracts-dfe-16-19-performance-points/

Paul Taylor, Director of Resource Development at The Learning Machine, writes:

Open Source in Education – The Big Picture

Overview

A number of years ago, very few people in education would have known about or considered using open source as it was perceived as free, so not good quality. There would have been people using Linux perhaps in some server role or students using Open Office because it was on a computer magazine, but little in the way of volume. Fast forward to today and the use and acceptance of open source in education is wide ranging, from primary schools using a Raspberry Pi computer to control various functions through to an estimated 70% of colleges running their courses on the Moodle VLE.

Curriculum

In the curriculum space, there is also relatively wide acceptance of open source. In almost all cases, Awarding Organisations (AO) mention and support the use of open source for course content and large numbers of schools are using google systems. Schools use Moodle, not to the degree of FE colleges, but still in large numbers, because they can control how it works and can manage it effectively due to the large and helpful community built around it. Most of the AOs have reference to Linux or open source software as part of their exams and the specialist open source AO TLM use open source systems to support their assessment and learning functions. Specialist schools will use some of the more well known open source software platforms such as the Gimp or Audacity, not necessarily because they are open source, but because they offer excellent features. Indirectly, open source has driven down the cost of software as a recent announcement from the DfE announced a deal with Microsoft to save £30,000,000. Without the number of schools migrating to Google online applications, this would not have happened. If a deal similar to the one arranged for the government by Collabora to use Libre Office can be pushed to education, even more savings could be made.

Non-curriculum

The biggest aspect of non-curriculum in education remains the MIS (Management Information System) which is currently something of a monopoly. Almost all schools use a proprietary system which is very hard to break free from and very costly. There are excellent alternatives such as Canonical’s SchoolTool, but few schools would be brave enough to move to these systems without some government backing and support. Some schools deploy Linux based servers internally to run mail servers and web sites running Apache, but the majority of state funded schools tend to stick to proprietary servers and desktop clients as these tie in with the MIS they use. The non-curriculum services tend to be controlled through regional consortia such as the London, Midlands etc Grid for Learning. These provides Microsoft based services and deliver on a large scale so it appears to be good value. Few small primary schools have the technical skills or support not to use these so small local schools can pay several thousand pounds for services which would be hundreds if open source was used. The author recently swapped a £7K a year contract for some open source filtering and a basic business broadband package costing £300 per year for a local primary. Taken across all 7,000 or so primaries, that is a lot of extra teachers and resources.

Perhaps some of the problem with the non-curriculum aspects of school is a lack of skilled open source staff available?

I would like to thank Ed Vaizey MP for providing the opportunity to provide feedback on this call for ideas. The OSC would be pleased to consider any further questions or provide more detail as required.

With best regards,

Stuart Mackintosh.

OSC Chair

Open Source GCSE-equivalent qualification attracts DfE 16-19 performance points

On Friday 8th January, the Department for Education (DfE) approved an Open Systems IT Management (OSIM) Level 2 course to be eligible for 16-19 Performance Points counting towards the school’s league table attainment. It is an area of skills shortage identified by the DfE who are responding to an increase in demand for Open Source, Linux and Cloud expertise through UK industry.

This is the first time that a course at GCSE level that focuses on the use of Open systems and Open Source Software has achieved this formal recognition. Attracting performance points at 6th form and college levels, this course is of equal importance to other subjects. Following the DfE guidance in 2013 (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-computing-programmes-of-study) demanding better teaching of computing, and the various coding clubs active at Primary schools, there has been a need to allow pupils developing these skills to engage with qualifications to validate their learning.

To strengthen the case, there are changes in the league tables following the introduction of the Progress 8 measure (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/progress-8-school-performance-measure) in 2016. This encourages schools to provide a broader curriculum and requires schools to meet targets across a range of categories. The OSIM course will count towards the non GCSE category providing schools the option of following on Key Stage 4 IT qualifications at Key Stage 5. Without this course, further work within the IT curriculum would difficult and not provide students with additional challenges and force them to re-learn the same IT work, leading to disengagement and disaffection.

With the further endorsement of the Open standard principles in Autumn 2015 by the Rt Hon Matt Hancock, and the Government Digital Services manual being geared around Open Source technology, the demand for expertise is gaining momentum and this course will go a long way to enabling individuals to develop the necessary skills. Released a year ago by the Prime Minister’s Office, the UK digital economy vision (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-uks-vision-for-the-european-unions-digital-economy/uk-vision-for-the-eus-digital-economy) describes some of the challenges identified, but young people have not had the opportunity to formally learn the relevant skills required to deliver this vision.

The units studied as part of the course are designed around practical needs in modern practical computing. They cover:

  • Understanding global software communities and their products

  • Using an Operating System efficiently

  • Computer hardware systems and networks

  • LOGOCarrying out an IT systems management project

Behind this course is The Learning Machine (TLM), a company based in Tamworth, Staffordshire. TLM took a professionally recognised qualification based on the Linux Essentials programme from the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) and turned in to a level 2 qualification structured in a language that schools and colleges can use.

TLM are the awarding organisation for this course, provide training to the assessors on the certification and moderation systems and schools fund the student for each qualification. TLM offer a range of models to support the varying ways schools fund these qualifications.LPI-Essentials-Logo-300X300-150x150

Paul Taylor, Director of Resource Development at TLM says “in the modern internet age, everything works on Open Source, but there has been no formal recognition of progress or ability within the UK education system. Now that the OSIM course is formally recognised and contributes to school league tables, it is in reach of every student in the UK.”

Working with DfE, Open Source Consortium (OSC), LPI and other organisations, the course has been developed to focus on the skills in demand by the growing technology industry. Stuart Mackintosh, chairman of the Open Source Consortium says “It has been a significant achievement to have this course formally recognised on the performance tables and designed to fit in with teaching and curriculum requirements of schools and colleges across the country. As the Open Source industry association, the OSC supported the development of the qualification and is pleased with this result achieved by TLM

The OSC, with whom TLM are a long-standing member, provide a link to industry expertise across the UK where schools, colleges and any other organisation, can find expert support, and students can access resources, work placements and employment opportunities.

With this model proven, TLM are developing the Level 3 qualification to support further learning. Following this, level 1 and entry level courses will be developed to make the Open Systems more accessible to those younger and less able. TLM aspire to offer a full suite of approved courses through level 4 & 5 for further education and workplace study. Whilst these are being developed, students can use the existing LPI programmes, although these are not currently funded by the DfE.

To access the course, a student can either self-study or ask their school to register. The flexible engagement methods make it feasible for very small numbers of students to take the course whilst economies of scale lower the cost for schools who actively promote the course. Funding is now available from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) of £941 per student to run the course owing to the DfE approval for performance points.

Full details of the course can be found here: https://theingots.org/community/Open_Systems_Management

About The Learning Machine (TLM)

http://thelearningmachine.co.uk/about-us/

The Learning Machine Ltd (TLM). TLM is an Awarding Organisation Accredited by Ofqual and DAQW, the regulators for qualifications in England and Wales. TLM is responsible for developing and managing a new and innovative family of qualifications. The most popular of these qualifications is the Qualification for IT Users, the ITQ, based on industry standard needs for IT. This is referenced to the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) for broader industry acceptance. We produce a range of qualifications in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) based subjects such as ICT, Computing, Design Engineer and Construct or Smart Product Design and Manufacture that provide headline points in the KS4 performance figures which are supported by free on-line guidance and resources.

Address: 4D-4E Gagarin, Lichfield Road, Tamworth, Staffordshire B79 7GN

Email: helpdesk@theingots.org

Document Freedom Day 2015 round-up

As the week of activities surrounding Document Freedom Day 2015 draws to a close, it is time to reflect on the lasting effects that have been inspired through this global initiative. With over 50 events around the world promoting openness and vendor-neutrality of documents, many more people will now have an appreciation of why Open Document Formats matter to us all. Here are just a few of the highlights of #DFD2015

Document Freedom Day image

LibreOffice announced the release of LibreOffice Online, a cloud-based installation of LibreOffice available for anyone to use.

Collabora, the UK leader in the provision of commercial support solutions for Libreoffice released further information around the practicalities of implementing the Online version.

Yesterday, we saw the UK Government Digital Service release a blog summarising recent Government activity towards opening up documents. Also on the 27th, further guidance was released, restating the Government policy and providing resources to assist users and procurement with adherence to the policy.

I was proud to be involved with a UK project to produce a toolkit with the objective of promoting the message that change is simple. Within hours, a German translation of the graphic was published and an unofficial Greek version created.
The toolkit is available from the Open Forum Europe here and the Open Forum Press release can be downloaded from here.
OFE ODF Toolkit

DFD Infographic thumbnail

Karsten Gerloff, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), writes in his blog of how the FSFE celebrated Document Freedom Day with the Green group of the European Parliament. The event focussed on a recent study of the benefit to procurement transparency that can be achieved with Open Documents.
The FSFE promoted their cartoon released for the 2012 Document Freedom day.The cartoon has many European translations and artwork can be downloaded here.

Also making a repeat appearance this year was a graphic created by the French volunteer and member organisation, April. Their 2013 graphic describes how Open Document formats ensure the longevity of documents and can be downloaded here.

Open Source at CloudExpoEurope 2015

CloudExpoEurope took place over a two day period, from the 11th to the 12th of March at ExCel, London. It is the largest cloud event in the world, demonstrating the most current and innovative cloud technology solutions

redhat-cloudexpo-standIt was clear to see how technology, particularly open source technology has evolved, not only in the technology itself but also in the was this is presented. These cloud technology revolutions are not being kept in the dark any longer. Instead they are being openly celebrated.

One of the big names exhibiting at the event was RedHat. A compact stand, RedHat had stripped away all of the unnecessarys that may have detracted from their brand, adding strength to their exhibit through a crisp, bright presentation. In addition to the popular and most well established Linux distributions, RedHat provide cloud infrastructure,  cloudforms,  Openstack platforms and more.

Greatly differing in their exhibit was Suse who used a jungle theme to compliment and enhance their memorable lizard logo. Their presentation successfullsuse-cloudexpo-standy balanced creativity and colour while maintaining a high level of professionalism. In addition to their Linux distribution, their offerings include Openstack private cloud and public cloud solutions as well as consulting services and support.

OW2 were represented at the event. Not only does this organisation deal with infrastructApphub-cloudexpo-bannerure software, but is also actively involved in the open source community, launching AppHub in January 2015, providing a neutral channel and support base for those involved in open source.

Also at CloudExpoEurope was
Edge-core, providers of network solutions. Edge-core also use the SMC brand- one of the industry pioneers with over 40 years of experience.
Cloudweavers, who have introduced their instant cloud, a self managed and private cloud which does not require any installation, is hardware independent and easy to set up.

A recurrent theme throughout the event was the modernisation of the image of open source cloud technology. A vast contrast to many ill-informed stereotypes about technology solutions, the open source exhibits were dynamiedgecore-stand-cloudexpoc, vibrant and current, delivering their information in a clear and approachable manner.

Rising profile of Open Source in retail tech

I visited the RBTE expo at Olympia on 10th March to gain a perspective of the progress of Open Source in retail technology, we were not disappointed with what we found.

RBTE 2015 LogoIt was clear to see the profile of Open Source is emerging within the retail industry. We found most exhibitors embed Open Source at some level within their offerings, this may be through cloud infrastructure, Android or Open Source developments.

Odoo stand at RBTE 2015Odoo, who topped the bill on the e-Commerce bootcamp, demonstrated how their software can enable the rapid implementation of an e-Commerce module within their business management suite of applications. Their stand featured the full end to end business management solution including point of sale, warehouse management and accounting with particular focus on the drag and drop website and e-commerce builder. Currently, the Odoo suite is provided under an Open Source AGPL license and is written in a modular Python framework. A partner channel provides implementation services, Odoo offer direct hosted sales and an enterprise contract guarantee.

Shopware stand at RBTE 2015Shopware made their UK début at the show, prominently and proudly displaying the words “Open Source”. This attracted much attention and conversation as passers by who may have heard of Open Source, and wanted more information, stopped to talk to the exhibitor. Shopware provide an Open Source e-commerce platform ,written in PHP ,which is popular across mainland Europe. The application is often used as a front-end on top of legacy ERP and database systems. They support an extensive set of plugins and an enterprise support option, the software is released under an Open Source license.

Akeneo stand at RBTE 2015Akeneo also made their UK début with their Open Source Product Information Management tools. Also created in PHP, the Akeneo tools enable data to be consolidated from multiple sources and made available to online applications, mobile apps and even printable outputs. The solution includes a powerful import and export function which enables it to connect with many ERP systems, databases and even CSV files. Akeneo provide their application through a BSD-style license and offer enterprise services.

Magento stand at RBTE 2015Last but not least is the Open Source powerhouse of e-commerce, Magento. Also a PHP application, Magento has a large community of integrators and developers to support and develop the Open Core and associated commercial modules. Recently acquired by Ebay Enterprises, Magento had a large presence, sponsoring the lanyards and taking a large stand space, shared with a selection of integrators.

Flapit imageAlthough not Open Source, one stand that also caught our eye was the Flapit cloud-connected departure board which displays real-time statistics taken from social media and other sources in the virtual world bringing them into a tangible form in the physical world. The Flapit display is just over half a meter wide and resembles a 1960s electronic calendar clock.

It was pleasing to see that the Open Source stands drew more than their fair share of visitors, leaving some of the more established names kicking their heels. This was in part due to to the contemporary and clean presentation style of the Open Source companies, and the intuitive and easy to use applications on offer.

Open source adopted by more than 50% of worldwide companies

Research has shown that an increasing number of organisations are opting to use open source software over proprietary application, driven by open source’s competitive advantage, lower cost of ownership, flexibility, innovation, shorter development times and faster procurement processes.

It is hardly surprising that proprietary software vendors love to warn consumers against the potential pitfalls of open source software, stating that it isn’t ready for business, either due to a higher total cost of ownership in comparison to their licensed applications or substandard features.

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