Enterprise Linux Log

Jul 25 2007   7:24PM GMT

The last Linux adoption barrier is marketing

ITKE ITKE Profile: ITKE

There are many barriers for adoption to Linux. Some are training, documentation, service, applications, games, and so on. These same barriers have been touted for several years. While these reasons have been held on to, Linux has matured and evolved far swifter than Windows and Mac OS. Commercial ventures that sell and support Linux solutions have become as robust and professional as the “big boys”.

The barriers to adoption cited in 1999 and in 2004 are still used today. These barriers are perception as opposed to the fact in many instances but there is one area in which Linux lacks creativity, energy, and innovation. This area, if addressed at all, is done in pale imitation of others and poorly executed. That area? Marketing.

IBM gave us the “Linux boy” ads. Like all IBM ads, they are convoluted and make little sense. Frankly, those ads would have been better suited for Wikipedia. A little boy swiftly absorbing the wisdom, advice, and information of the ages? Yeah, Wikipedia ad, but at the end of the ad, I would have no idea what Linux is.

Novell gave us the cute “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” farce that gets a few hits on Youtube. However, whereas Apple clearly tells us there are benefits to using a Mac in a cute manner that is easy to digest, the Novell ad is full of cute little inside jokes that make me giggle, but is lost on the general population. Worse is that we have a pale imitation as opposed to innovation. Novell could have easily created posters that say, “Think REALLY Different” and shown the same level of originality and said just as little about Linux.

My final video example is the new Dell Linux video floating around today. A poorly acted “news” spoof chock full of inside jokes about Linux delivered through tired puns and double meanings. It’s for us and not for the world and they seem to think our standard is low.

One of my favorite examples of bad marketing was an in-store GQ PC sold at Fry’s with Linspire pre-installed. Here we had a computer for under $250 that not only came with an OS, but it had games, an office suite, and many other things. Was that featured? No, but there was a handwritten sign that told me that this was not a Windows PC, it was not compatible with Windows software, and ISP’s did not support it. It was written in such a way that one would think it did not work on the Internet. Oddly, there was no such handwritten sign by the Apple computers. They may as well have written a sign that read, “Beware of the Leopard” and covered the Linspire GQ computer in barbed wire.

On a more positive note, I’ve also seen some decent magazine ads (pre-Novell SUSE), a clever web page or two (TAFUSION), and some slick brochures (Red Hat, Linspire and SCO–when they had Linux). These efforts have not been bad but when you are describing a disruptive technology these are not quite what we need to get the message out. Even on the rare occasion that they are well done they are not sustained long or introduced well enough to create real market penetration.

Dude, tell me what I am getting! I want to think different! And y’know what, I wanna tell you where I wanna go today! Linux has so many benefits that are being completely missed. I can understand and even excuse the hacker culture for not knowing how to come up with a clever slogan and execute it. Much of this rebel code is seeped in an idealistic counter culture that is sometime anti-corporate or just not marketing minded. There is nothing wrong with this. I would not want a sales rep to compile my kernel and I do not expect a programmer to deliver a sales pitch. However, companies like Novell and IBM have been in this game for decades. They have seen Microsoft market their way to #1 with an inferior product.

Now what about these smaller companies like Linspire, Tafusion, and others? Do we give them a pass for having smaller pockets or do we ask them to take on a more focused approach? Not sure there.

My local chiropractor uses simple guerrilla marketing tactics to get in the face of the community and the consumer. Proactive has turned zit prevention into a membership plan. Staples Inc. has us convinced there is a big red button that can make life easy.

Look, I am glad companies are trying to market and support Linux. But market adoption will not happen without good advertising. Every day we are surrounded by clever and quality marketing. Without thinking about it, many of our purchases are driven by marketing. Marketing is not closing the deal. Marketing is not clever Super Bowl ads in which people talk about the horses that play ball, but no on can quite remember the product. At the end of the day marketing is making people aware of your product and informing them why they need it. I believe that if the marketing is ever as solid as the Linux OS, all those other barriers to adoption cited for almost a decade will melt away.

Why? Because I will want it the same way I want two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, on a sesame seed bun.

Patrick Green is a Linux consultant living in the Chicago area.

21  Comments on this Post

 
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  • ITKE
    Yeah the computerin Fry's, The Fry's store here in Fishers Indiana, I don't know why they even bother with selling Linux installed computers, The display computer is normmaly is turned off or they have a real low resolution monitor connected and it looks horrible. I told the store Manager two times but he doesn't care, it is set up worse the next time I come in the store. Let's face it these sales people in these stores are $Windows people.
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  • Vi
    Marketing by itself in Open Source (which is incredible well networked anyways) and some other areas is not at all a barrier or even a big factor. I do not know a single person who converted because of GetFirefox ads; but I know for sure that Firefox is a browser superior to all others. I converted at least 50 people. In its early days I do not remember any Google advertisement(only Yahoo ads and billboards everywhere) yet it was clear that Google was the best available search engine. So as soon as Linux becomes really usable on the desktop (Gimp 2.4; OOo 2.3; KDE 4; Wine 1 ... Ubuntu 2-3 releases from now)it will start eating into MS market share. As it is right now it is just almost usable (by very weak standards of usability)
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  • ITKE
    You forgot some ingredients. Obviously their marketing didn't really work _all_ that well... That should be: "... two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, PICKLES, ONIONS on a sesame seed bun."
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  • ITKE
    Are you referring specifically to Linux "Desktop" adoption?
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  • ITKE
    How would you propose that we go about promoting as one whole, the "Flea-Market" that GNU/Linux is? There are three hundred plus vendors (distro's), all selling the same free software using ten or so different and incompatible core underpinnings. All of these core distros are fighting tooth and nail to get sufficient market share (swarm effect)to become the obvious consumer desktop distro of choice. Self interest dictates that none of them will willingly give up this game of GNU/Linux monopoly unless they are all compelled to in a simultaneously fashion. For nearly a decade now, the core distros have been wrist wrestling in the locker-room trying to figure out who will be the captain of the GNU/Linux team. Through the mechanism of market momentum, they "ALL" have designs on effective ownership and control of GNU/Linux. As proof of this, Ubuntu's brisk uptake among first adopters left in it's wake, the panic stricken low hanging fruit distros that Microsoft easily picked up for their patent protection scheme. Yes, that's right, commercially cored Ubuntu's popularity, in part, was the cause of the Microsoft patent deal defections. With this in mind, do you suggest that we just declare Ubuntu the winner and promote it while we all hold hands and sing praises to M$ Linux's founder Mark Shuttleworth? That might even work except for the minor detail that Cononical/Ubuntu is commercially owned, controlled, and could be sold to the highest bidder on any given day at the whim of M$. If you don't believe Mark Shuttleworth would do that, where do you think he got the money he has now? He sold his thriving business just a bit before the dot com crash. Every day Ubuntu is worth more dollars in a sale. Are you willing to bet all your marbles that he won't ever cash out? Many of us aren't. Further, where is the passion? Where are the consumer advocates in this whole scenario? Haven't you all noticed that the non geek grass roots cannot be found anywhere? I'll tell you where they are. They are, and have been, here all the while. Waiting for you geeks to give them something that they can promote in earnest. If you think that Ubuntu fits that bill, YOU ARE SADLY MISTAKEN! In fact, Ubuntu's non community core is reason enough to fight against Ubuntu in spite of the fact of being pro an alternative to Microsoft. Consumer advocates will be more than happy to vociferously give Ubuntu a hand down to the bottom. The Ubuntu model is flawed for this reason. Switching tyrants is not much of a thing to aspire to. The only way that you are going to get GNU/Linux accepted by all, and widely adopted any time soon, is to unify to a community owned and controlled desktop core, accepting no less,tolerating no binary incompatibilities among the distros and disregarding any that do introduce incompatibilities. Doing this would end the various core distros GNU/Linux monopoly-quest game. Or, we can all sit in the stands while Microsoft continues to score goals unopposed, with useless, privacy and freedom robbing garbage offerings like "Xp and Vista" because our team is in the locker-room fighting to the death over who will be the ultimate boss. Ending monopoly-quest is your next major barrier to adoption! Not Advertising! Think about it...
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  • ITKE
    Fulko, I had to think about the underlying reason why I missed the Big Mac jingle. I always hold the pickles and onions on the rare occasion I order one...so it was omission by preference? I will have to ponder that. Nuna, No. When I took shots at IBM and Novell, those are companies that primarily offer server and enterprise solutions. Linspire, Fry's, TAFusion are mainly desktop offerings (TA does have a server solution, but that is a technicality). Essentially, all the marketing seems to fall short save TIVO and Google and there really is no mention of Linux, just what they made out of it. ;).
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  • ITKE
    The claim that "Linux has matured and evolved far swifter than Windows and Mac OS" is demonstrably false, and is the real reason that Linux adoption is stalling, most particularly on the desktop. I've been a Linux user since around 1996 and during this time the essential Linux experience has barely changed. Compared to 1996 we have GTK/Gnome and QT/KDE and a few decent apps (like FireFox and OpenOffice). But we still don't reliably have a compositing X windows, setting up RAID is still hard, making things work still requires compiling stuff. It's just boring and old. The problem with Linux is that the developers run the show. It's not that there lacks a marketing layer -- Linux lacks an effective user's advocate. This is the difference between Linux and commercial operating systems. Users are not represented; developers don't have to develop software that doesn't "scratch their itch". In the same time, Apple have released something in the order of 8 new versions of their operating system including a transition from OS9 to OSX and from PPC to Intel. The difference between OSX10.4 Tiger and the OSX Public Beta from 2001 is amazing. The difference between Linux from 2001 and Linux of today is almost unnoticable.
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  • ITKE
    I agree, Linux advertising has to get focused on everyday people's needs. Perhaps the "marketing" will happen this way: A computer company will produce a very inexpensive Linux laptop. I would guess that under $200.00 will do it. It sells very well, and the company cannot keep up with the demand. Soon other companies will join in with their Linux $200.00 laptop offerings. Then people will want the same operating system on their desktop computers as their laptops. Then the last person out at Microsoft can turn off the lights. Remember VHS vs Beta? Beta was better. But someone flooded the market with cheap VHS recorders; end of story. Marketing is more than advertising. It is producing the right product at the right price and then as the Coca Cola Kid said "we just get it to the people". Asus just might pull it off. Take a look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEeLJltAHRE Cheers John Kerr
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  • ITKE
    Nuna, I am not sure that I can agree with some of your feelings on the matter. That said, I find your perspectives interesting and would love to talk to you about them via email, IM, smoke signals, etc. I recently heard Marcel Gagne' speak of the benefits Open Source could get from a unified marketing board. This would be something like the Dairy Association and other boards of that nature. We see those ads all the time. Got Milk? Pork: The Other White Meat. We could go one with further examples. Dean's and Oberweise (SP?) and other companies have their own marketing campaigns, but the Dairy group will bring focused and national attention to milk, cheese, and other products. Marketing should not be confused with sales. Effective marketing can lead to greater sales and more opportunities to sell, but at the end of the day it is about creating awareness of a product of service to a target audience. Like any project, marketing can be done well or it can be done poorly. If done poorly it may either be ignored or it can hurt a project. Commercial vendors or those that offer commercial support for FOSS have every right, and a duty to their financial viability, market their wares individually as well. At this time, most of these vendors are small or have a nasty habit of hemorrhaging cash like a hemophiliac rolling in glass, so something like Marcel's idea bears a lot of merit.
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  • ITKE
    The last Linux adoption barrier is marketing I can understand and even excuse the hacker culture for not knowing how to come up with a clever slogan and execute it. Much of this rebel code is seeped in an idealistic counter culture that is sometime anti-corporate or just not marketing minded. There
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  • ITKE
    Pat Green, Marcel Gagne' notion of a unified marketing board has some merit, would work to some degree, but this collective, generic, product promotion is fairly outmoded and is a fairly obsolete methodology in todays marketplace. Most of todays consumers are "brand-conscious", have been conditioned as such for decades now. A true personal example to hi-lite this fact: Recently while working late I called a local pizza shop for a delivery order. Wanting something other than pizza, I asked the sales clerk (28+ years old)if they had "tortilla chips" to go with the sandwich I had ordered, to which she replied no. I asked what they did have. Her very first response was "We have Doritos" and continued to name a variety of flavors as well. She didn't know that Doritos were tortilla chips even though her job is to sell them. Generic product marketing originated decades ago, pretty much before the Reagan era deregulation which started the avalanche of corporate mergers, acquisitions and buyouts. The significance of this will be made a bit clearer below. Using your examples, prior to deregulation, there were a huge number of local (mom-n-pop) milk dairies and pork farmers scattered across the entire US. It made sense for these individual small producers to chip-in and market their products collectively and generically because they were all in physically (brick-n-mortar) different geographical locations. As such, they were not in direct competition with one an other. As time passed (post Reagan era), large corporations forced many of these small producers out of business using various mechanisms such as promoting environmental laws and excessive government regulations that were difficult if not impossible for the small producers to comply with, while leaving all of their necessary loopholes buried deep within the verbiage of these laws. As such, and as they grew larger by buying into more markets (at bankruptcy prices), their specific corporate brand/s on their way to monopoly were the only things that made sense for them to promote. Upon analysis, the collective generic product marketing method when viewed from the prospective of the small GNU/Linux distro producer is outright suicide because they share the exact same market location with the major players. Any GNU/Linux distro can be sold from anywhere--to anywhere on the planet. The small distro's participation in such a program promotes their better known competitors way more than they themselves. In short, currently, Cononical/Ubuntu would be getting a bit of corporate welfare from its weaker competitors. 1980's Reagan deregulation ushered in the era of the eventuality of multinational global monopolies. The only question for us in the free software community is, who will eventually gain effective (monopoly) ownership and control of GNU/Linux through market momentum. Will it be community, or some corporate entity? Gaining a preemptive monopoly with a standardized community core would as a logical result, keep the corporate monopoly want-to-be's in their proper place by removing the game. And, the generic GNU/Linux product marketing model would be more valid. Plus this would help ensure that free software would be an oasis of free-enterprise capitalism, where everyone who wants to may participate, instead of monopoly capitalism where a few global elite hold all the cards. Marcel Gagne' suggestion shows a lack of understanding of the many underlying marketplace dynamics. So too, the recent Tux 500 initiative was met with fairly tepid enthusiasm because these and other points were not factored into their model. You now have a usable email address should you, as you have previously stated, care continue this discussion using other than smoke signals. Puff--Puff...
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  • ITKE
    Still not entirely with ya on your view of marketing and the marketplace, but we will take this to email...shame about the no smoke signals, I had assembled a darn nice fire pit for the event. ;) Not seeing a method for me to contact you here. Please feel free to email me at patgreen at silverstrandsolutions dot com at your leisure. Cheers Patrick
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  • ITKE
    Patrick, You say you assembled a nice fire pit in preparation of our further discussion of GNU/Linux direction and marketing. Well, I must say that after a cursory check of your website I suspect that you were also planning to roast your marshmallows, if not in fact me, later on the sharpened end of the Ubuntu pennant that you got at their last pep-rally. Your serve... oneone67 at netzero.net
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  • Jose
    nuna, I agree with a lot, but I want to mention some things about the Tux 500 project. Linux was not being sold as much a brandless product as you seem to suggest. The Tux mascot and Linux are in contrast to *NIX or simply FLOSS in general which is a large part of what is actually being sold. Also, the two approaches are complementary, and I do think a general approach helps grow the market out. Think of it as when people argue that proprietary is better or more secure. Do you not think they would be effective if their competitors simply shut up and (incorrectly) conceded that point? I think there are many other cases where the qualities of a group of products is sold, directly benefitting everyone. I won't argue that branding doesn't work or doesn't really help sell that *particular* brand. The fact is that large companies can and do buy out small companies. [Many business] people like to eliminate competition. People like to eliminate sales going to the competitors, including when there are many of them. People also don't appreciate the fact that soda is very cheap to produce (I imagine) compared to milk. Better to buy out the low margin product and not "oversell" it, in order to allow the higher margin soda division to excel. The suggestion I'm making is that the Got Milk campaign was actually too effective for the comfort levels of some people in various positions. At the end of the day though, you have to combine this effect with a tangible solution to answer the question on the mind of the consumer of "so what do I buy?" Basically, I appreciate/agree with many of your views, but I don't necessarily think the general (limited) branding is bad/ineffective for the little guy or for the little distro maker or for Linux in general or for the end consumer. Linux didn't get this far because it was doing evrything wrong and amateurish or because it was making a ton of key people very rich. Also, this market is different from the milk market. Milk is milk. Linux is something very different. You don't need large capital investments and all the flavors are helped by the gains in any one of the individual members. I think what you are saying is that branding gives that brand an advantage over the brandless [I think this is one reason why Tux 500 *specifically* decided not to pick a distro to promote]. In many markets this leads to the others losing market share to the point of going out of business, but [I'll repeat] Linux is not milk and didn't get here because someone was making a terrific profit. The small distros don't go out of business usually but do live to see another day and make another challenge at the top. A different set of rules is at play here. Sell Debian if you want to grow Debian to fight of some of the more specific commercial brands. I am not against that. I think all distros that want to sell themselves should; however, Linux can still be sold as a preferable brand over Windows. I do think the Tux 500 project and others served/serve a useful purpose that helped/helps the entire community all at once. Conclusion: you can't buy out Linux milk to allow the Windows BadSoda division to make their money. Think of it as the milk farmers not going bankrupt because costs were basically zero. Think of the milk farmers selling their business and then starting up another right away which surpasses the originial in a short time [like when salespeople that are liked leave a company and take their clients with them]. Marketing Linux helps Linux for everyone. I think it really does. I think Tux 500 will continue to grow and help Linux (as long as there are car racing/etc fans out there willing to chip in -- I think Torcs is going to get skins and what not to help out Tux 500.. if anyone wants to make the contributions). Neither big business nor the government can shut it off by withholding fundings. Losing funding is does not apply. The "one true brand" today doesn't set the pace for the next 10 years. Not with Linux. In fact, it is very possible that another FLOSS *NIX clone take over Linux popularity (but it will need to be compatible I think). Different game; different rules.
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  • Jose
    nuna, ..a few more things. Microsoft sells "Windows XP." Microsoft sells "Vista." Why? ..in part because it helps put earlier Windows flavors out of business. Microsoft wants to end of life XP.. so it sells Vista. [Microsoft used XP to end 98 (Me was DOA) and 2000, etc.] Microsoft can do this, even if Vista is bad, if all we hear is "Vista." "Clearly" Vista is not XP. The focus is on the differences, on the "new and improved" reasons to get the new product to buy buy buy some more. On the other hand, "Windows" is "Windows" (the focus here would be on how Vista is *not* much different than XP). So this is all fine and dandy for Microsoft and their stockholders. The problem comes in when the competition refuses to die. What if someone out here keeps selling generic Windows or XP specifically.. or heaven forbid Linux? The consumer you mentioned doesn't hear Tortilla Chips but does know about Doritos; otherwise, that consumer would know. Many consumers do know, btw, which is why many generics industries are very large. I understand your frustration. I do think you should try and sell a specific brand that meets your objectives, but FLOSS allows a lot of brands to exist without any dying off. The key for this to work [I'm sure MS is or will be working on poisoning distros in this and many other ways] is that the competitors remain fairly interchangeable (compatible). In that case many brands can co-exist. Absent good patterns, the consumer/human will have trouble pin-pointing what Linux is. This makes it difficult to market Linux in isolation. However, when we do have enough data to discern patterns, we do. Linux gains recognizability if there are many successful sub brands. Then it becomes more clear what Linux is. Linux is not Windows, for one. Without many sub brands that are each relatively successful and recognizable, "Linux" is too abstract to sell. The Tux 500 project already had access to http://distrowatch.com/ among other resources. Linux can be sold, just like milk can be sold. The difference is that Linux minority flavors can't be put out to pasture so easily if at all. Most people that care about Linux and want it to succeed have no problems allowing all brands to co-exist, meaning that quality becomes that much more of an important factor. Also, Linux appeals to more people than PCLinuxOX because Linux includes more options, some of which appeal to some more than PCLOS does. Linux is thus a stronger brand as it is representative of the Linux that you use, which presumably is among the ones you prefer. Linux is bad to any distributor wanting to monopolize, but I think Linux provides a better deal for the end user (and for all the minority players). Of course, in the short-term, all Linux businesses should remember that Linux helps sell their flavor when it cuts sales from the main competitor which today is MS WinXXX.
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  • Jose
    Ooops. I fell into the trap. I mispelt http://distrowatch.com/ above. Please ignore the previous web page which is someone trying to get free hits from misspellings.
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  • ITKE
    Don't worry about it Jose, I fixed the link for you. -Jack
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  • ITKE
    Hang on, Nuna, I gotta ask my masters if I am allowed to reply now that you are on to me. ;) When our cover is blown, they tend to be unkind and force us to drink substandard coffee.
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  • ITKE
    Sorry Pat, When I shoot from the hip the barbs slip out on occasion. I was really just trying to quickly use a clever way to incorporate your fire-pit lead-line into my response (a come back), while making it known that I was aware that you feature Ubuntu and Ubuntu CE fairly prominently at your place of business. It never entered my mind that you might be mindlessly soldiering for Mark Shutleworth (drinking his Kool-Aid as it were). If that is how you perceived it, then again, I most humbly and contritely apologize...
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  • ITKE
    Pat, I just now, finally figured out what it is that upset you. My "Your Serve.." closing remark in that earlier comment. You took it as "You Serve". That I was accusing you of serving a master. No! No! No! I meant that it is "Your Turn". You know, tennis, handball, the ball is in your court, and it's Your Serve..
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  • ITKE
    No worries on the miscommunication. I will be teaching computers part time at a Christian college in the Chicago area. I got to devise my own syllabus from scratch for all my classes. I am incorporating FOSS into the curriculum along with licensing awareness. Churches operate like small businesses in many regards. They do so on a shoestring budget. Unfortunately, most ministers are not tech savvy and they rely on "cumputer guy". Computer guy is a well intentioned volunteer who is usually a low level IT employee somewhere. Computer guy often loads unlicensed copies of commercial software into the systems. Education of the terms and conditions of software licensing along with learning that viable alternatives exist is important to me. As the year progresses I will be leveraging my contacts and resources to get computers donated to the school and have an UbuntuCE loaded pc installed here and there and everywhere. For that atmosphere it comes with many tools pre installed that will be useful for them. I did something similar to this for a Montessori not too long ago and used Edubuntu. For my clients, I am more a traditional RHEL, FileEngine, CentOS person. I try to be as distro agnostic and service provider agnostic as possible. It is about the right solution for the right client. Hence the wonder of FOSS. Jack's Tire Shop has different needs than Big Life Insurance Company. Both of them like to call me so I have to be ready to switch hats a lot.
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