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Open Source Education

South African Education Department Bans Free and Open Source Software 185

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the 1993-wants-their-programming-language-back dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The South African Education Department has effectively banned the use of FOSS software in state-run schools by forcing all candidates writing the Computer Applications Technology examination to use Microsoft's Office 2010 or 2013 as the only supported options. In the same circular, the state has mandated that all schools use Delphi, instead of Java, as the programming language for the country's Information Technology practical paper. South Africa, notorious for its poor performance in Maths and Science and for having vastly over-crowded and underfunded schools, are now locked into costly Microsoft licensing because of this decision."
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South African Education Department Bans Free and Open Source Software

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  • by zooblethorpe (686757) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:24PM (#45083071)

    Well, I don't smell any hint of corruption here, no sirree!

    </sarcasm>

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:37PM (#45083239) Homepage

      Well, I don't smell any hint of corruption here, no sirree!

      It doesn't need to be corruption.

      It could merely be incompetence and stupidity.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:53PM (#45083409)

        Hey now, have an open mind.

        It could be all three!

      • by avgjoe62 (558860) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @01:10PM (#45083561)
        Never ascribe that to malice which can be adequately explained by incompetence.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @01:28PM (#45083725)

          Never ascribe to incompetence what can be adequately explained by greed.

          • This one's far more likely.

            The whole "Never ascribe to malice" thing was written by a very malicious person.

            • by QRDeNameland (873957) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @02:03PM (#45084113)

              The whole "Never ascribe to malice" thing was written by a very malicious person.

              It is attributed to Robert J. Hanlon [wikipedia.org], though the idea predates him by at least 200 years.

              That said, most people seem to miss the important clarifications of this adage: 1) the key word is "adequately", otherwise stupidity becomes the perfect cover for malice; 2) the "Heinlein's razor" variant that says "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don't rule out malice,"; 3) the corollary known as Grey's Law: "Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice."

              Far too often, I hear read people talking about various gov't bureaucracy, bloat, and largesse and thus declare gov't as "incompetent". Far too seldom do they ask the question "incompetent for whom?"

              • Ethics (Score:3, Informative)

                by Baldrson (78598) *
                In virtually every instance someone uses the "Never ascribe to malice..." line, they are exposing themselves as unethical.

                In ethics there is a concept known as "conflict of interest [wikipedia.org]". In almost every instance where someone trots out the line "Never ascribe to malice..." they are responding to a question about someone's potential conflict of interest.

                Especially when those in position of trust and authority are involved in improper decisions, it is unethical to trot out the "Never ascribe to malice..." l

                • Re:Ethics (Score:4, Interesting)

                  by QRDeNameland (873957) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @06:39PM (#45086957)

                  To further bolster your point, in cases of conflict of interest, it is not simply about whether there is actual corruption, but also whether there is the appearance of or the potential for corruption...the reason being that even if there is no actual malice going on, any potential conflict of interest will allow people to assume there *is* malfeasance happening, which will erode trust in the institution in question. Thus "never ascribe to malice..." is quite beside the point in such cases...if there's any question that there could be malice, you already have a problem.

                • Compared to malice or corruption, I think sufficiently dangerous incompetence is equally undesirable. Bad results and bad methods are bad.

                  • by Baldrson (78598) *
                    Malice is not essential to corruption.

                    Indeed, all of the reactions to corruption have become vilified as "hate", "terrorism" and "extremism". It is "malicious" to react to, or even let one's self become aware of, conflicts of interest, let alone out and out corruption.

              • Hallo. I'll reply to you because you're far enough on the discussion.

                "Never attribute to Malice ..." is a really great concept because it gets you out of a *lot* of nasty jams!

                1. There *is* malice, but you find an awesome fix, then you avoid million-dollar malice-audits.
                2. There really is *incompetence*, so you just fix that before *anyone else* "pretends" it's malice!
                3. In the realm of social affairs with co-workers, a "mistake" is tons easier to fix than an accusation of "malice", which threatens a firing

        • maybe not for every situation, but it certainly applies here...

          Never ascribe that to malice which can be adequately explained by incompetence.

          this is often a false distinction...true 'incompetence' without malice requires a staggering level of pure ignorance...

          Why bother bringing this up?

          b/c there is **NO DEFENSE** for what South Africa and M$ are doing here....it is PURE EVIL

          I see these discussions on /. whenever a company or government does this horseshit and we all call it out as horseshit...

          The idea tha

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by pupsocket (2853647)

            In the discussion below the original article, it is noted that Microsoft provides free software to the schools covered by this directive.

            If a cigarette company wants to supply free cigarettes to your students, should you accept?

          • by X0563511 (793323)

            Grey's Law: "Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice."

        • by Beorytis (1014777)

          I prefer the nearly equivalent "Sufficiently advanced cluelessness is indistinguishable from malice."

        • It's the way of higher management. If it succeeds- it happened due to my leadership. If it fails- it failed due to incompetent workers, incompetent committees, incompetent scapegoats, sub-optimal company structure, etc. Incompetence is easier to forgive than greed-driven risk-taking or things designed to fail after they have enriched you.

          --Coder
    • by sneakyimp (1161443) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:38PM (#45083241)
      Oh please! This is just an innocent foot-hunting Safari! Everybody knows it's easier to shoot your own foot than someone else's.
    • by mspohr (589790)

      Oracle also has a stranglehold on South Africa government.
      I have seen their "sales" effort in person and it is impressive.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Wouldn't Oracle have more to gain from pupils using Java?

        • No kidding... I don't really get Delphi at all. I mean, sure, Pascal-like languages are fairly good teaching languages, but all in all, Java, with it's C/C++ like syntax seems far more logical in a world where C, C++, Objective C, C#, Java and hell, bloody Javascript and PHP, are dominant languages.

          I can get MS Office, though it's obvious Microsoft and/or its partners benefit from this kind of lock-in, but at least it's so dominant you can see the logic. But Delphi? Does anybody code professionally in Delph

          • Locking your education system to anything that uses Delphi is a sure sign that your both corrupt and incompetent.
          • Because of course someone is going to be employed professionally to code Java based on whether they've studied Java or Delphi in high school.

            God fucking dammit, procedural languages are all the same.

            • Which makes it particularly odd to choose some obscure oddball with a tiny handful of necrotic vendors and a few under-maintained OSS projects as options for tools, rather than an otherwise-equivalent one for which ongoing interest exists.
              • by Darinbob (1142669)

                I'd rather hire someone who said "I only learned on a weird oddball language but I want to learn something else too!" than the "if you're not using Java I'm outta here."

                And it's high school. Do they teach advanced programming in high school and does it matter? Maybe I am getting old.

                • Oh, I'm not saying that the correct answer is Java, just that choosing a language that appears to be actively dying (rather than just choosing a pedagogical language without listening to the 'But, but, practical skills!' idiots) seems like it would add an extra layer of logistical hassle.

                  Given the state of South African secondary education, 'extra layer of logistical hassle' is not high on the list of things I would want.
          • by silviuc (676999)
            Yes people still use it to make money. Like these guys: http://www.ritlabs.com/ [ritlabs.com]
          • by Darinbob (1142669)

            Delphi when I used it (very very briefly) was so much easier to learn and use than Visual Basic. This was mid to late 90s, but Microsoft looked like they were stumbling around with usability compared to the competition. I was really surprised when VB took off since it was so awful originally.

            • While I learned programming in TRS-80's variant of MS-BASIC, my first "formal" (as in high school) education in programming was in Turbo Pascal, and I monkeyed around a bit in Modula and Delphi. I never did a serious project in any Pascal-like language, and knew few people that did. I simply didn't know anyone was still using Delphi.

              • by phayes (202222)

                My preferred music app, Mediamonkey is coded in Delphi. This is becoming a problem as it is not present on either Linux or Mac & even windows 8 certification is defendant on compile time options that the Delphi debs have not implemented yet.

    • "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." (Hanlon's razor)

    • by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @01:27PM (#45083711)

      Or...
      Trying to have some sort of standard so they are not trying to teach around many different platforms, and Open Source isn't the issue.

      Most of these schools already have a Microsoft license, having some kids do stuff in OpenOffice, or LIbreoffice... Means teachers who are already under stress needs to know how to deal with many platforms.

      As for Delphi... My best guess it they want for focus more on Database application vs Object Oriented.

      Saying that they are banning Open Source because of this is like saying a group of people are not your friends just because they didn't invite you to a particular party.

      Should they be teaching Open Source, absolutely, the more you are taught the better you are... However if you need to pick and choose, then Open Source may not always be the best option.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by St.Creed (853824)

        I agree. Also, Delphi is quite likely the better language for teaching. Pascal sure beats Java (or C++ - *shudder*) in that area.

        And another thing: for some reason the fact "stuff costs money" is no problem when it comes to US schools (iPad schools, anyone?) but when it's about South Africa it suddenly has to be free of cost? Why? So the corrupt officials can actually drain off even MORE money whilst sticking it to the students?

        Having expensive teaching materials as a mandatory requirement may do a lot to f

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by AlphaWoIf_HK (3042365)

        However if you need to pick and choose, then Open Source may not always be the best option.

        Closed-source garbage has no place in an educational environment.

      • However if you need to pick and choose, then Open Source may not always be the best option.

        Maybe for a business. If your goal is to educate then open source is always the best option.

        Your explanation is really reaching. If a teacher can't figure out LibreOffice -- especially one who already understands MS Office -- then they're too incompetent to teach. If they want to focus on database stuff rather than object oriented then they're not really concerned about educating, they're focussed on job training. That type of teaching belongs in a tech school, not a public education system.

        Since those are

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Corruption in favor of Microsoft would have mandated Visual Basic instead of Delphi.

  • by Joe_Dragon (2206452) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:24PM (#45083083)

    How many people where bribed to make this deal?

    • by Nerdfest (867930) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:46PM (#45083331)

      Relax, all the documents created are ISO standards. There's no lock-in here.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Sadly, possibly 0.

      I can imagine some government official somewhere proud of his latest powerpoint presentation made
      with what he thinks is the oh so awesome MS Office products with Ribbon that he decides it makes
      sense to only use MS Office 2010/2013. He doesn't even know about LibreOffice or OpenOffice, he
      just wants MS Office 2003 gone.

    • by ruir (2709173)
      You surely jest. Corruption in Africa? And Microsoft involved? Cant surely be true!
  • by CajunArson (465943) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:24PM (#45083087) Journal

    "The South African Education Department has effectively banned the use of FOSS software in state-run schools by forcing all candidates writing the Computer Applications Technology examination to use Microsoft's Office 2010 or 2013 as the only supported options."

    Fascinating, apparently MS-South Africa has sophisticated technology that seeks out and destroys all open source software simply because Microsoft Office is used for some tasks. This new learning is amazing! Tell me again how sheep-bladders can be used to prevent earthquakes!

    • by CajunArson (465943) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:30PM (#45083155) Journal

      Oh one other thing: anybody who says that using "Delphi" is somehow not "open-source" while using Java is "open source" doesn't understand the difference between a programming language in the abstract and a particular piece of software that compiles or interprets code written in the language in the concrete needs a head exam.

      Something tells me these guys: http://www.lazarus.freepascal.org/ [freepascal.org] would get offended if you tell them that they hate open source because they have an open source implementation of Delphi. Since Delphi is a descendant of Pascal, which has a long history in software education, it's not some evil conspiracy to use Delphi in a classroom setting.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        While you're correct, practically speaking, Delphi is closely tied to Oracle and Embarcadero (Borland). Somehow I seriously doubt that the South African organizations in question will be using the freepascal implementation, or even be aware that it exists.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Of course Delphi is closely tied to the oracle. It already was in ancient Greece. ;-)

    • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:33PM (#45083183) Homepage

      Yep. I'm a FOSS advocate, and I just read the memo linked in the similarly-hyped FA... but this story is a waste of a good outrage.

      A state-led education department has picked a particular product used to cover their basic computing curriculum, and it isn't FOSS. That sucks, but we'll try harder next time. Meanwhile, other schools not under this authority are free to use FOSS, and any schools that can manage extra resources (unlikely, I know) can still present FOSS as alternatives, and FOSS can probably still be used outside the curriculum.

      I set up a computer lab in Ghana, and they had similar policies in place, but with vague enough wording that I could use a carefully-configured OpenOffice installation to cover the requirements. I suspect the actual mandated curriculum in South Africa is likely similar, and this news is just a memo from the authority saying they made the easy choice for picking their standard software.

      TRWTF is Delphi.

      • by Arker (91948)

        "TRWTF is Delphi."

        I'll admit I havent touched it in years but Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] indicates it's been kept up to date, and other than being locked into MSWin (obviously given the Office item that's a given) what's wrong with it?

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      How may I use these sheep bladders to run Office 2013 on FOSS Operating systems?

    • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:51PM (#45083391)

      "The South African Education Department has effectively banned the use of FOSS software in state-run schools by forcing all candidates writing the Computer Applications Technology examination to use Microsoft's Office 2010 or 2013 as the only supported options."

      Fascinating, apparently MS-South Africa has sophisticated technology that seeks out and destroys all open source software simply because Microsoft Office is used for some tasks. This new learning is amazing! Tell me again how sheep-bladders can be used to prevent earthquakes!

      That technology is called "convenience" and "money", and is what was meant by "effectively banned" rather than saying "completely banned".

      Once you've spent the money to purchase the non-FOSS tools that the school requires you to use, you're not going to seek out free/open source replacements for those tools.

      A few FOSS zealots may be willing to use LibreOffice, FreePascal, Linux, etc for most things, and only use the paid tools when he absolutely has to, but the average user isn't going to pay for one environment to use for special tasks, and then set up a completely different FOSS environment where he'll do most of his work.

      (I'm one of those few, I use Linux for 99% of my work, but rdp into a Windows server to run Outlook, Visio, MS-Office, etc when I need to)

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        > but the average user isn't going to pay for one environment to use for special tasks, and then set up a completely different FOSS environment where he'll do most of his work.

        That's a false strawman. The beauty of Free Software is that it is generally platform agnostic. You don't have to do anything remotely like what you've just described. All your "special environment" requires is downloading some software.

        It's no more burdensome than getting your flash and silverlight plugins sorted.

        • by hawguy (1600213)

          > but the average user isn't going to pay for one environment to use for special tasks, and then set up a completely different FOSS environment where he'll do most of his work.

          That's a false strawman. The beauty of Free Software is that it is generally platform agnostic. You don't have to do anything remotely like what you've just described. All your "special environment" requires is downloading some software.

          It's no more burdensome than getting your flash and silverlight plugins sorted.

          No strawman, it's a practical use case. You're assuming that all one needs to do to become proficient in some software is to install it, that's the easy part, the hard part is learning how to use it effectively.

          When a student is told that he is required to submit work created by the school's chosen software, how many students are going to take the time to find a FOSS equivalent, do all of their work in that FOSS equivalent, and then, just before submitting the assignment, test it using the paid software to

      • by pla (258480)
        Once you've spent the money to purchase the non-FOSS tools that the school requires you to use, you're not going to seek out free/open source replacements for those tools.

        Key phrase there, "spent the money".

        Students in general don't tend to have oodles of disposable cash. South Africa doesn't exactly have a reputation as above-average for personal incomes. Therefore, this "decree" only really means one of two things:

        The SA ED has effectively ordered people to pirate Microsoft Office and Delphi, or
    • by Builder (103701)

      Microsoft Office is being mandated for some tasks. That means that all of these students will need a Windows license. What's the point of loading Linux at home after you've already had to load windows? It makes it just that little bit harder for them.

  • Calling Ubuntu (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:27PM (#45083113)

    Mark Shuttleworth, please speak up!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:29PM (#45083125)

    Side effect of the Gates foundation aid to Africa?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    S. Africa is known for this sort of thing. They purchased a bunch of fighter jets that they could never afford to fly in exchange for a huge kick-back to the ANC.

    Hopefully the kickback they got from Microsoft was worth it.

  • This makes me sad

  • by WiiVault (1039946) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:36PM (#45083225)
    I'm not afraid to admit I use a quite of commercial software and have been quite happy with many products out there. Yes even a few MS ones. But as a person with a functioning brain and an interest in productivity you can bet your ass every time I'm looking at an upgrade I take a moment to survey the options. Often over the course of a major version upgrade cycle I learn that a cheaper or if I'm lucky an OSS solution has become viable for my needs. Any time I see an organization act outside of that simple principle I can suspect only one of two things and neither are good. I usually hope it's just narrow minded ignorance, which with luck can sometimes be cured, but when you lock people into a paid-for only solution it usually ends up being bribery of some sort. Governments are in the end just made up of people, and like in the corporate world the decision makers are often the most selfcentered people in the land. Add to that despite using and recommending certain MS programs and services I have little doubt in my mind that MS is one of the most unethical technology companies in the world- it's how they got where they are.
  • wait a minute (Score:5, Interesting)

    by slashmydots (2189826) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:38PM (#45083245)
    If my $10 mil company can't afford Office 2013 and is switching to Libre, how the hell can an African school system afford it?
    • Re:wait a minute (Score:5, Informative)

      by oodaloop (1229816) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @12:41PM (#45083275)
      Because they were given a different rate?
      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        People like to give stuff free to students if it has a chance to turn them into future loyal customers. They aren't likely to do the same thing for a cynical office worker. Dumping free and discounted products on schools is a very old strategy.

      • I hope that's a nice way of saying they pirated it because that's what everyone in countries around there does.
        • by oodaloop (1229816)
          I hope that was poorly worded sarcasm instead of the racist bigotry it sounded like. Schools get discounts, in case you've never been to one.
    • by westlake (615356) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @01:54PM (#45084007)

      If my $10 mil company can't afford Office 2013 and is switching to Libre, how the hell can an African school system afford it?

      Office 365 plans and pricing for education [microsoft.com] [South Africa]

      Plan A3

      Students:
      R 23,30 user/month

      Faculty and staff:
      R 42,00 user/month

      1 South African Rand = 10 cents US.

      Includes:

      Hosted e-mail. 25 GB/user.
      Web conferencing, supports HD video, etc.
      3,000 SharePoint team sites.
      Active directory integration
      24/7 phone support
      Anti-spam and anti-malware
      Office Web Apps
      MS Office "Pro" Suite for 5 PCs or Macs/user
      Advanced e-mail, advanced voice mail.

      May include "MS Office Anywhere" --- stream full Office apps to any PC.

      So what are your monthly costs per user for an equivalent bundle of applications and services? How well does Libre Office integrate with third party applications and resources?

    • by St.Creed (853824)

      No-one actually buys Office 2013. You buy Office 365 and then you install Office Pro 2013 on 5 computers.

  • I think, it's an hoax. Isn't it?
  • Forced to use Delphi? Really?
    • I know nothing of this Delphi doodad, however if you're not teaching Java you're not in the present reality. The country is already behind, this doesn't help any.

      • Delphi is basically object oriented pascal. Back in the early days of Windows it was as popular programming environment but its popularity began to wane as Visual Basic/C++ were much better suited for Windows 95 development.
        • by Windowser (191974)

          Delphi is basically object oriented pascal. Back in the early days of Windows it was as popular programming environment but its popularity began to wane as Visual Basic/C++ were much better suited for Windows 95 development.

          Visual Basic better suited ... you must be kidding !
          Visual Basic is good for nothing, not even fast prototyping.
          On Error : resume next

          • by jd2112 (1535857)

            Delphi is basically object oriented pascal. Back in the early days of Windows it was as popular programming environment but its popularity began to wane as Visual Basic/C++ were much better suited for Windows 95 development.

            Visual Basic better suited ... you must be kidding ! Visual Basic is good for nothing, not even fast prototyping. On Error : resume next

            Thank you so much for bringing up bad memories of wrestling with the total lack of error handling in VBScript.
            I particularly loathed how some things (e.g. working with active directory) required that error handling be turned off (the dreaded 'on error resume next') sometimes making something as simple as a syntax error extremely difficult to debug.
            If there is one thing that I am thankful for it is the fact that despite all odds Powershell managed to break free of the part of Microsoft where great ideas g

      • by loufoque (1400831)

        If you're teaching Java, you're irrelevant to the industry.
        The only language that has passed the test of time and that will always be relevant and a worthy language to master is C.

  • by doconnor (134648)

    Aren't there a couple FOSS compilers that support Delphi to a greater or less degree?

    • by loufoque (1400831)

      Yes, all dropped projects.
      Delphi died quite a few years ago, and so did its compiler scene.

  • Keep them dumb and dependent!

  • The last thing this industry needs is yet another wave of bad Java programmers.
  • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @01:45PM (#45083919)

    Rule of acquisition #98.

  • by Meeni (1815694) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @02:00PM (#45084063)

    That's not very Ubuntu feelings, I can feel.

  • Who is using expensive up-to-date Microsoft products at home, and who is using the FOSS alternatives? OTOH perhaps the economic boundary is more between those who have computers at home and those who don't, in which case perhaps this is a good thing - prospective employees should be training on the current business-level software (not that school is supposed to be vocational training, but something is better than nothing).
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by techprophet (1281752)
      As an American college student, I use MS Office for the classes that require output in that format and LaTeX+Emacs for everything else. I find the interface of Libre/OpenOffice highly distracting and will not use them.

      One thing that I have noticed: more and more professors are starting to say "submit a word document or a PDF". This is no surprise in my department (CS/Math; which actually will not accept word documents because holy shit the equation formatting sucks), but it is a bit more surprising comin
  • ...kicking and screaming.

  • by codeusirae (3036835) on Wednesday October 09, 2013 @08:08PM (#45087591)
    "When Samsung packaged a solar-powered classroom for Africa’s remote communities, it shipped a GNU/Linux solution [mrpogson.com] but M$ intervened"

    "Working together with Reza Bardien [newsle.com], our Education Lead, we managed to turn this into an end to end Windows solution [microsoft.com] by the end of the week"

    - quote -
    Solar Powered Schools – Linux Win

    In the week of 16 January, Samsung Africa launched its first Solar Powered Internet Schools. These 40 ft solar powered containers are designed for use in remote rural education communities with limited, or no access to electricity. This is a world first and shows great innovation from our partners.

    However, this solution with little education relevance (all 20 student laptops as well as the teacher one) was a complete Linex solution at the time of launch. Working together with Reza Bardien, our Education Lead, we managed to turn this into an end to end Windows solution by the end of the week, including the PIL Learning Suite and the Windows-based NETOP Classroom Management solution.

    By Friday morning, when Samsung demonstrated its solution to press and stakeholders, the solution was based on a Microsoft platform. This container (and the next 10 containers going into Africa and South Africa) will include devices running on a Microsoft platform only, so the students learning on these devices will be running and learning on Windows.

    Some great cross group collaboration between the Windows BG, the Education Public Sector, NETOP and Jacques from OEM who assisted.

    Thank you all!
    - unquote -

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