Windows Enterprise Desktop

March 1, 2013  2:29 PM

Whoa: Microsoft Joins Open Data Center Alliance!!!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In its own words (from the organization’s home page) the Open Data Center Alliance, aka ODCA, “… is working actively to shape the future of cloud computing — a future based on open, interoperable standards.” Their membership includes 300-plus companies, including Nokia, Rackspace, BMW, China Unicom, Deutsche Bank, Lockheed Martin, Motorola Mobility, and AT&T — in other words a mix of consumers and producers of cloud services and technologies. Does this sound like the kind of broad, all-embracing, standards-oriented effort to which Microsoft would voluntarily become a party? Well, hold on: believe it or not, Microsoft and ODCA announced its membership in the organization on February 27, 2013 (here’s a link to a article entitled “Microsoft Joins Open Data Alliance to Shape The Future of Cloud“).

The Open Data Center Alliance is an open, standards oriented data center industry organization.

The Open Data Center Alliance is an open, standards oriented data center industry organization.

Microsoft’s angle into this move comes out of Windows Azure, the company’s cloud computing platform for building, deploying, and managing applications and services through Microsoft’s global network of data centers. In writing about the move, Slate‘s Nick Kolakowski says “Microsoft has spent the past several weeks pushing Office 365 Home Premium … even highlighting … how the cloud-based version is a better deal. That’s not a move by a company dabbling in the cloud, that’s one betting one of its biggest cash cows on it. …one can see why the company likes to say it’s ‘all in’ with regard to the cloud.” For MS to jump onto an open, standards-based approach to cloud computing is also a strong if tacit acknowledgement that the cloud is bigger than any single company’s platforms, frameworks, tools, and technologies. They already know they have to rub shoulders with the other players in the cloud space, but it’s refreshing and inspiring to see them do something to recognize the realities of the cloud (“it’s bigger than all of us put together” might make a supplementary mantra for the OCDA, should they be looking for further taglines or rhetorical justifications).

Any way you look at it, though, this is big news, and represents a major new approach to a major market for the colossus of Redmond. Frankly, I’m very interested to see this going down, and will be watching closely as the real import (and standards support and compliance) involved in ODCA membership manifests itself across the many cloud-related Microsoft platforms, frameworks, and products — and its various certification programs as well.

February 25, 2013  5:54 PM

Dell Latitude 10: Viable Healthcare Tablet Option?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I just read a fascinating article in the Healthcare section of InformationWeek by Ken Terry entitled “Dell Targets Healthcare with Windows 8 Tablet.” The basic premise behind the story is that because the Latitude 10 offers some key security features and a lower TCO than an iPad, it stands some chance of competing head-to-head with that favorite of Apple devices.

Could the Latitude 10 really beat out the iPad for healthcare professiona use?

Could the Latitude 10 really beat out the iPad for healthcare professiona use?

According to Terry, the Latitude 10 offers some interesting advantages for potential healthcare adoptions:

  • It can require use of either a fingerprint or smart card reader to employ dual-factor user authentication for login and access
  • It already includes built-in encryption, and will add file-level encryption in an update scheduled for Q2 2013
  • The device has a “20-hour battery life, which should be attractive to clinicians who work hospital shifts that can be 12 hours or longer” (while the iPad tops out at under 14 hours of modest use). Also, the Latitude 10 includes a user-replaceable battery, so users can swap out a dead battery for a charged one if needs must (the iPad battery is not user accessible)
  • The device is simpler and more manageable than an iPad, and fits into existing Windows-based healthcare IT environments (including remote management, deployment, and maintenance tools, which Dell also offers to enterprise customers) both neatly and nicely

I like all of this information, and I even buy Dell’s contention that “…few EHR [Electronic Health Records] vendors have developed iPad-native versions of their applications…” My concerns about this platform are as follows:

  • The Latitude 10 includes only a dual-core Atom Z2760 1.8 GHz CPU with 2 GB RAM (not expandable) — it does run either 32-bit Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro, however. I’m not sure that this will give healthcare professionals enough horsepower to do everything with their tablets that they might want.
  • There’s no comparable cover/integrated keyboard device for the Latitude 10 like the Microsoft Type or Touch covers that both protect and extend the capabilities of these devices. [Note added 2/28/2013: In subsequent reading on bundles for corporate adoption, I’ve learned that Dell DOES offer an integrated cover and separate wireless keyboard for the Latitude 10. I think this successfully addresses my concerns on this issue (pricing is a little better than similar iPad offerings, in fact), and scotches this potential objection/gotcha.]
  • There’s not a lot of EHR infrastructure for Windows  machines yet, either, nor is there much emerging for the Windows 8 platform at the moment, either. Dell’s purported advantages do require application (and app) support to help further bolster their case.
  • I don’t know anything about the planned aftermarket for the Latitude 10, so I also don’t know if there will be cases and covers available for these devices that will protect them from inevitable drops, falls, and minor abuse as they accompany medical professionals on their rounds. For the iPad, there are already plenty of options that offer everything from nicely integrated keyboards to near-invulnerability from physical abuse. Something along those lines will be essential for the Latitude 10 to compete on equal footing with the iPad. [Note added 2/28/2013: see previous note for the second item in this list, which refers to accessories available for this unit from Dell; online research indicates that a growing number of aftermarket offerings are popping up for this unit, too.]

All of this said, I find Terry’s case for the Latitude 10 as a possible healthcare tablet at least interesting, if not intriguing. I wonder if the IT and purchasing folks at any of the major healthcare providers are seriously pursuing this platform as an option…a detail that Terry’s story unfortunately fails to address. I presume the sales cycle for such a deal is underway, possibly at several providers, but methinks if any deals were done or in the offing they would have been mentioned here (or in some Dell press release somewhere).

[Note added 3/1/2013: Thanks to a shout-out to one of my Dell contacts, I’ve been connected to the Lat10 product manager, and am jumping through some hoops to see if I can get a review unit. I’d like to try one of these machines out to see how they behave, and hope to get one with 4GLTE WWAN capability to take them out and about with me as I drive around my local area, and make the occasional business trip. More on this as I make progress on this front…or not!]

February 25, 2013  5:20 PM

MS Office 2013 Licensing Follies

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

One of my go-to guys for Windows-related news and analysis is Ed Bott, whose “Ed Bott Report” over at ZDNet is usually a goldmine of interesting and useful Windows information, particularly for IT professionals who work in enterprises and large organizations on Windows platforms. He’s been reporting on recent hoopla and consternation surrounding Microsoft Office 2013 licensing lately in a series of stories: first came “Big Changes in Office 2013 and Office 365 test Microsoft customers’ loyalty” on February 15, followed more recently by “Microsoft’s attempts to clarify Office licensing policies fall short” on February 23.

Could a new version bring new licensing headaches? Not so long as software agreements with MS remain current...

Could a new version bring new licensing headaches? Not so long as software agreements with MS remain current…

The source for the ongoing flap relates to what Bott describes as Microsoft “no transfer” policy for Office 2013 (which means that each license is associated with a particular PC, so if you decommission an older PC running Office 2013, and seek to install the program on a newer replacement PC, you’d theoretically be required to purchase a new license for that replacement machine). In fact, Bott cites information about a Los Angeles-based company that paid the BSA (Business Software Alliance, a software industry trade group that focuses on license compliance at US companies, and regularly floods major metro areas all over the country with demand letters requiring companies to prove all their licenses are fully paid-up, or make good on any shortfalls, oversights, or omissions) $137.5 K in 2012 to settle licensing issues for MS software — presumably, including Office — with that group.

Bott raises the spectre that an inability to prove that original Office licenses can’t be produced to prove coverage of earlier, less restrictive license coverage could lead to future liabilities, even for companies covered by volume purchase or enterprise licensing agreements (which would have to have expired at the time of enforcement for there to be any legal problems, because otherwise companies and organizations essentially pay for some maximum or arbitrary number of licenses and are covered for all machines and all users that fall under the agreement’s terms). This is potentially much more onerous to smaller companies or organizations that may not be covered by some kind of ongoing agreement with Microsoft, but still an interesting concern for even the biggest of Microsoft customers.

Sheesh, it’s always something, right?

February 25, 2013  4:53 PM

Teeny-Tiny USB Drives Offer Neat, Compact Storage Options for Laptops and Tablets

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Whoa! Talk about major miniaturization: I stumbled across some reviews of the new SANDisk Cruzer Fit USB drives last week, and was immediately struck by their amazing utility for extending storage on notebooks, laptops, and especially tablet PCs (at least, those equipped with accessible USB ports). They’re the same size and format as the ultra-compact wireless dongles for networking and USB that have been available for a few years now, as the following photo illustrates (SANDisk even includes a cap for the device, which is just about the same size as the device itself):

This USB drive is available only in USB 2.0 form right now, and comes in 8, 16, and 32 GB sizes (the 32 GB model is available from some online resellers for as little as $25-26, not including S&H or applicable taxes). I think it’s a great way to add storage to mobile PCs and tablets because the form factor is small enough that you can leave the drive plugged in all the time, even as you pull your mobile PC or tablet in and out of a traveling case or protective sleeve. The price is right, too!

Less than 0.2" of black plastic (far right) protrudes when you plug in this device.

Less than 0.2″ of black plastic (far right) protrudes when you plug in this device.

The only other comparable storage options come on those devices (like the Surface Pro, and even the Barnes & Noble Nook) that support micro SD cards, or on laptops and notebooks with full-size SD card readers. Micro SD cards top out at 64 GB these days, and usually cost $1.00-2.00 per GB depending on speed. Full-size SD cards currently top out at 128 GB, and cost about the same per GB of storage.

Any of these options enables users to extend available storage — sometimes significantly — at a modest cost, without having to worry about accessing device internals to upgrade hard-to-get-at SSDs or hard disks (for tablets and ultrabooks, anyway). I’m already using 32 GB SD cards in my Lenovo T520 and X220 Tablet, and have a 64 GB miniature SD card on order for my son’s Nook HD. Should he succeed in persuading me to buy a Surface Pro (as he desperately desires me to do), I will acquire a 64 GB micro SD card for that device at the same time I order the Surface Pro itself. If I need more storage than that, I can add a SANDisk Cruzer Fit to the mix, too!

February 18, 2013  5:06 PM

ISOtoUSB tool makes it dead simple to built UEFI bootable installers

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’ve been working my way deeper and deeper into UEFI based Windows 8 installation and operation over the past few weeks. This weekend, I stumbled across a fab and free little utility called ISO to USB that can read any ISO formatted file and “burn” it to a USB-based target device of one’s choosing. For me, that usually tends to be a USB flash device (known as a UFD in Microsoft-speak). To act as a repository for any of the Windows 8 ISOs, it must be at least 4 GB in size or larger. For this blog, I grabbed my older and somewhat beat-up but still speedy and capable Corsair Survivor 8GB USB 2.0 model to do the job. Here’s a screen cap of the utility window, upon successfully building a bootable Windows 8 installer from the 64-bit Windows 8 Pro .ISO file (the trick is to format the UFD as FAT32, because that’s the only format that works for a UEFI install):

Select the ISO file, set file system to FAT32, give it a good label, and you're off!

Select the ISO file, set file system to FAT32, give it a good label, and you’re off!

Sure, it’s easy to use diskpart to do the necessary set-up and drive formatting to get ready to copy the contents of a mounted ISO file in Windows 7 or Windows 8 to build a UEFI install UFD manually. But this free tool does the whole job in one step, as long as you can point to the ISO file you need and have a spare UFD ready to turn into your UEFI bootable installer. Given that using this tool is dead simple and pretty fast, why not take advantage of its capabilities? The price is right, too!

February 15, 2013  5:37 PM

USB Image Tool Makes It Easy to Bounce Around Amidst Bootable Tools, Installers, …

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’ve got over half a dozen different USB flash drives (UFDs, in Microsoft-speak) sitting on my desk right now, but that’s still not enough for me to keep resident all of the different bootable installers, UEFI shells, and diagnostic tools I also have on hand. I had been using Acronis True Image to keep a library of USB image snapshots, but yesterday afternoon I fired up the program and waited for it to complete backing up a 2 GB UFD … and waited … and waited … and waited some more. Then I jumped into Task Manager and killed the Acronis True Image process tree because the process was either hung, or taking waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long to complete.

I keep a small bin of UFDs in sizes from 2 GB to 128 GB on my desk.

I keep a small bin of UFDs in sizes from 2 GB to 128 GB on my desk.

That’s when I went poking around for a USB image backup utility, and more or less immediately found Alex (Beug) Page’s website called Alex’s Coding Playground. There, he’s got a free (donationware) download called the USB Image Tool that does a peachy job of finding and capturing USB drive images in their entirety. It will also let you restore images it has captured onto USB drives as well in the form of .img files. Here’s what the tool looks like (download link):

A three-button wonder: one to backup, another to restore, and a third to rescan for USB drives.

A three-button wonder: one to backup, another to restore, and a third to rescan for USB drives.

It finished my paltry drive image (of the Steve Gibson SpinRite stuff that I still use occasionally to diagnose and repair my old-fangled spinning hard disks) in under two minutes (and I couldn’t even get status information from True Image in under 10, after which I bailed on the program). I’ve now used the USB Image Tool to capture backups of all my install UFDs (for Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8 Enterprise, Windows 7 Professional, and Windows 7 Ultimate) and my various diagnostic tools (a Lenovo diagnostic that boots into the UEFI shell to run disk, PCI, and memory checks, a Linux boot environment that hosts a raft of forensic and diagnostic tools, and a Windows 8 PE set-up that lets me operate on otherwise inaccessible files and folders on Windows boot and system partitions). It’s a great tool, and one that I’m glad to have added to my toolbox. If you try it out yourself, you may feel the same way. I made a contribution of 5 € (Euro; $6.85 US) for the program this morning to express my appreciation and support; I hope you’ll feel inclined to do likewise after you try out this nice little tool.

February 13, 2013  4:12 PM

UEFI Only Boot Works Fine, But No UEFI Advanced Boot Option!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In working through the various tutorials and information I’ve found on making UEFI boot work with Windows 8, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m comfortable with setting up and installing a UEFI-based version of the OS. The secret is to build a FAT32 formatted install UFD using the Windows 8 ISO image of your choice, and then to delete everything on the target disk before installing the Windows 8 OS thereupon. This produces diskpart output that looks like this:

The EFI partition is formatted as FAT32.

The EFI partition is formatted as FAT32.

After set-up I went into diskpart, and selected disk 0 (where my C: drive, and the EFI and Recovery partitions reside), then used the “list volume” command to show the hidden and system partitions on the drive. I know UEFI is working because I’ve configured it to boot on my Lenovo X220 Tablet in “UEFI-only” mode, and the machine is booting and running fine. FWIW, I do notice a slight speed-up in overall boot time as a result of switching from Legacy BIOS mode to UEFI mode.

But what still eludes me is how I can get the UEFI option to appear in the Advanced Startup options menu for Windows 8 (to get to this facility, you click “Change PC Settings” from the Settings charm, then click General, then scroll all the way down to the bottom of the right-hand side screen menu to where it says “Advanced startup,” then click the button that reads “Restart now.” After that, you click “Troubleshoot,” and then finally the “Advanced options” item appears). A UEFI item is supposed to appear at the middle right for Windows 8 UEFI installations but so far I haven’t been able to figure out how to make that it show itself.

Along the way, I’ve discovered some great resources that address UEFI installation and EFI bootloader repairs:

I haven’t yet worked all the way through the options that the final item presents, but I’ve done enough of them to believe it’s not going to fix my problem. I’m going to keep researching this, and may even call Lenovo Tech Support to see if they can shed any light on this issue. If I can get to the bottom of this and fix it, I’ll report back. If anybody else already knows how to fix it, I’ll hope they’ll comment here to that effect, or shoot me an email at ed at edtittel dot com, pronto. This should be interesting, no matter how it finally turns out!

February 11, 2013  4:52 PM

What Does Desktop Marketshare Tell Us Anymore?

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

A quick peek at the latest desktop operating system market share pie graph from shows that Windows continues to dominate, with a least a 86 percent overall share. In that mix, Windows 7 rules at 44.48%, XP follows next at a still-high 39.51%, and Windows 8 trails far behind at 2.26% (less than Mac OS X 10.8 at 2.44%, and just over one third of the aggregate OS X share of 6.4% for versions 10.8, 10.7, and 10.6 combined).

Windows still rules the pie on the desktop, but how long can it stay on top?

Windows still rules the pie on the desktop, but how long can it stay on top?

But there’s another figure on the NetMarketShare page, that tells a changing story that bodes ill for the desktop — and Microsoft — in the long term. It shows the composition of overall share by device type, and distinguishes desktop devices from mobile and tablet devices. Right now, that breakdown looks like 87.8% for desktop and 11.8% for mobile and tablet devices (presumably with the remaining 0.4% allocated elsewhere or lost to rounding error). But on the corresponding mobile share graph, Microsoft barely registers at 1.15% for all versions of Windows Phone, and iOS at 60.56% and Android at 24.51% rule this roost.

The emerging long-term trend, of course, is that the ratio of desktops to mobile devices is going to keep tilting ever more strongly in favor of mobile devices, as billions of new smartphones and tablets get purchased and start tapping into the Internet, particularly outside First World countries where computer ownership is more or less given in most families. In the Second and Third Worlds, however, high costs and  lack of infrastructure, training for, and exposure to conventional PCs combine with an inexhaustible appetite for mobile devices to suggest that sometime in the next decade — perhaps sooner — the ratio will change to put mobile devices in the majority, and those devices will achieve absolute ascendancy as the workloads that demand PCs today can also be accommodated on mobile devices in the future.

When that happens (and most experts are convinced this switchover is just a matter of time) what happens to Microsoft? Good question! Obviously, the company itself is concerned, as its remaking of the Windows 8 desktop as a tablet-oriented OS shows, and as the company’s renewed and intensified focus on Windows Phone OSes also attests. Will it be enough to keep the colossus of Redmond relevant to the emerging 21st century mobile computing landscape? Another good question. I can tell that they’re trying hard to stage a big comeback, but also that success so far eludes their grasp. This should be an interesting technology tango to watch, as Apple and Android seek to eat Microsoft’s lunch. I have to see this as a consumer win, but also hope that today’s highly fragmented mobile landscape finds a bit more order amidst the prevailing chaos as we work our way deeper into this decade, and beyond. This blog may need a new title sometime sooner, if it doesn’t become completely irrelevant before then!

February 8, 2013  4:23 PM

Another new Flash Player version released to counter zero-day exploits

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

With documented exploits for both Mac OS and Windows reported in the field, Adobe released another Flash version last night, moving up from version 11.5.502.146 to 11.5.502.149 in the process (see both numbers in my Flash Player Settings Manager window, after updating IE with the ActiveX version, but before installing the Plug-in Version for Netscape-compatible browsers):

The latest version counters malware vulnerabilities in both Mac OS X and Windows versions.

The latest version counters malware vulnerabilities in both Mac OS X and Windows versions.

The previous version (11.5.502.146) carries a release date of 1/8/2013 in the Flash Player Archives on the Adobe Website. Dan Goodin of Ars Technica has an excellent story entitled “Adobe issues emergency Flash update for attacks on Windows, Mac users,” that indicates updates are also available for Android and Linux platforms, too. Apparently, the thinking is that the vulnerability is severe enough to warrant hurry-up effort from malefactors to bring it up on those other runtime environments, because the ability to compromise Safari and Firefox on the Mac has also played into foisting booby-trapped Word documents with malicious Flash content on the PC is believed likely to show up in various other forms there as well. These vulnerabilities are classified as CVE-2013-0634 (Mac) and CVE-2013-0633 (Windows).

Here’s the skinny on the latest versions for all platforms, straight from Goodin’s article:

Thursday’s fix brings the latest version of Flash for Windows and OS X to v. 11.5.502.149. The latest Linux version is v., and the most current Android versions are for Android 4 and above and for Android 3 and earlier. Updates are available here. Flash in Google Chrome and in Microsoft Internet Explorer 10 is automatically updated.

In this context, it’s worth pointing out that Google is invariably speedy in posting updates to Flash for Chrome ( my Plugins page currently shows version, and Adobe claims that’s the most recent version thanks to its find-version-flash-player page. OTOH, Microsoft pushes Flash updates for the Windows Store UI version of Windows 8 through Windows Update, and a version was posted to that service at 3:15 yesterday afternoon. The corresponding Adobe Security bulletin addresses the same CVE numbers mentioned earlier in this blog post, so it looks for once as if MS has pushed out an “emergency” Flash update in a timely manner. I’m stunned, but also pleased…

February 6, 2013  4:19 PM

The Pundits Weigh in on Surface Pro

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

The real-PC version of Microsoft’s Surface tablet, the Surface Pro, becomes publicly available this Friday, February 9. So far, I’ve seen stories on the new tablet from Paul Thurrott (SuperSite for Windows), Ed Bott (The Bott Report, ZDNet),  David Pogue (NYT), Jon Phillips (PCWorld), and countless others (run this Google News search to see dozens of serious, reputable reviews and commentary, amidst thousands of blogs, opinion pieces, news reports and more).

The Surface Pro supports a Wacom digitizer pen, which many reviewers liked.

The Surface Pro supports a Wacom digitizer pen, which many reviewers liked (Source: CNET).

So far, here’s the emerging consensus:

1. Battery life is indeed a problem, as it was expected to be, with 4-6 hours of battery life available for varying usage scenarios.
2. Overall functionality and capability (aside from how long the battery holds its juice) are uniformly positive, but that positivity varies from lukewarm to medium, and seldom jumps into rabid enthusiasm.
3. The 1920×1080 true HD display gets uniformly good ratings for sharpness, clarity, and readability, and beats 1366×768 displays hands-down.
3. As a tablet, the Surface Pro gets ho-hum ratings from the experts; as an ultrabook, it does somewhat better, especially with the Type cover. It’s never positioned as a world-beater by anybody, though.
4. These days a 64 GB SDXC memory card — which the Surface Pro will gladly accommodate — costs anywhere from roughly $40 for a slow model, to upwards of $150 for a pretty fast one (over $200 for the fastest models). This provides an easy way to stretch the 89-plus GB of free storage space available on the Surface Pro’s 128 GB SSD. 128 GB SDXC cards should become available later this year, but will also be costly.

In general the experts are pretty broadly split on their decisions regarding the Surface Pro, with about half saying “So-so, not the greatest, not my cup of tea,” and the other half opining that for those looking for maximum portability with real Windows PC oomph it’s the best choice among the other offerings of its kind available from Acer, Samsung, Sony, and others. In revisiting about a dozen of those reviews, I note that the reviewer’s final opinion often rests on how strongly wedded they are to Windows computing in general, versus a more catholic or platform-agnostic view of the overall mobile computing space.

Ed Bott Sez It Best

IMO, Ed Bott summed up the unique position that the Surface Pro occupies in the PC marketplace today in his review for ZDNet entitled “Is the brilliant, quirky, flawed Surface Pro right for you?” Here’s what he has to say at the very tail end of his 3-page story, quoted verbatim:

…this is a great product for anyone who’s already committed to a Microsoft-centric work environment. It isn’t likely to inspire many iPad owners to switch, unless those Apple tablets are in the hands of someone who has been eagerly awaiting an excuse to execute the iTunes ecosystem.

I don’t expect Surface Pro to be a breakout hit for Microsoft. Too many people will have good reasons to say no, at least for now. But it does represent a solid, interesting, adventurous alternative for anyone who wants to spend some quality time today exploring Microsoft’s vision of the future.

To me, this makes the upcoming super-ultra-low voltage Haswell processors due out from Intel later this year even more interesting — and important for the future survival of the Surface Pro models, and perhaps also for the future of PC and notebook computing as we understand it today. If the new chips mean that Microsoft (and other hardware designers) can trim the extra 0.5″ that currently separates the RT from the Pro model (and others of those ilks) and boost battery life to the 8-10 hour range, by golly, we might just have something. If that doesn’t happen, though, the real question will become: Is there enough there to make buying into this hardware vision worth doing for business and more serious personal users. Methinks not. Methinks further that the emergence of the Chromebook phenomenon is likely to play hob with this entire set of market dynamics.

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