EC: List of Potential Principles

February 24th, 2009

This post is a list of potential principles derived from the various discussions so far, plus a clarifying example or two for some of the principles.   In subsequent posts I’ll say a bit more about each potential principle and how it might be accomplished, though I’ll be equally happy if this post is enough to spur a good discussion.

These are identified as potential principles on purpose; this is not a list of Mozilla recommendations.   This list includes a spectrum of potential principles, some of which seem uncontroversial and some of which have already proved highly controversial.   We may also find agreement on a principle and a vigorous discussion on how to best implement it.  These potential principles are the beginning of a discussion, not the end.

Potential Principles

1. Windows cannot subvert a person’s choice of an alternative browser.

Some examples of what this might mean in practice:

  • Windows cannot condition a person’s ability to stay secure and/ or update Windows on the use of IE
  • Microsoft cannot condition a person’s ability to access the MS website or MS services on use of IE
  • Use of IE for operating system purposes cannot bleed into web browsing
  • Functionality of the operating system cannot be degraded for users of alternative browsers

2. Windows can’t provide a technical advantage to IE.
An example of what this might mean in practice:

  • Microsoft must make all  API and access points that are available to IE available  to other browsers on the same terms

3.  Windows must enable people to choose other browsers.
Some examples of what this might mean in practice:

  • Option to download other browsers must be presented when a user is updating IE
  • Option to download other browsers must be presented when a user is updating Windows
  • IE may not ask to become the default browser or make itself the default browser except  in specified legitimate circumstances, like perhaps when a person downloads IE separately from Windows or from a Windows update
  • Windows must ship with alternative browsers installed and offer users a choice
  • Windows may not include a browser (“untying” required).  (This implementation of the principle has some obvious drawbacks for users.)

4. Microsoft’s financial and other incentives to distributors must be browser-neutral.

5.  Microsoft must educate people about other browsers (or fines levied against Microsoft should be used to support open source projects and education).

6.  Microsoft tools for developing content must not produce IE specific or Windows-specific results.

7.  IE must meet specified web “standards.” (This request was included in Opera’s complaint, generally not well received by the Mozilla community.)

Update 2/26: Revised item 7 to better reflect Opera’s position:

7. IE must comply with web standards. (Opera has suggested that Microsoft must support web standards they have promised to support).

47 comments for “EC: List of Potential Principles”

  1. 1

    The Hater said on February 24th, 2009 at 10:58 am:

    Principal three looks like going the package manager route (which I think Microsoft originally wanted, way back in the olden days) would make compliance far easier than most people think, especially when other Microsoft software starts falling under similar scrutiny.

    Depending on the route of offering alternative browsers, principal four will likely prove one of the most immediately influential in breaking IE’s monopolistic install base.

    Principal six looks almost as impossible as seven, in my opinion. Ideal, but to the point of naïvely idealistic.

  2. 2

    Rafael said on February 24th, 2009 at 12:32 pm:

    Other possible examples for 1 or 2 are integration of the browser with apps like Word, Excel and plug-ins like Windows Media Player and Silverlight.

  3. 3

    Michael said on February 24th, 2009 at 1:47 pm:

    I don’t really get what Microsoft is doing wrong here. Sure, I’m not a big fan of IE or any of their other products but do they really force anyone to use anything? I don’t think so. Noone is forced to use Windows, MS Office, IE or Live Messenger.

    “But people don’t know about the alternatives / don’t know that MS may be evil / don’t know that MS software may be inferior”: well, that’s too bad. If I go to buy a car, the seller is obviously not forced to tell me that another manufacturer’s car is better/cheaper/etc. So why should this apply to MS/IE?

    Sure sometimes we all still run into cases where webpages are optimized for IE6 or something but on the other hand, that’s perfectly fine for a webmaster to do, isn’t it? Also, it’s perfectly fine for a user to not use such sites.

  4. 4

    Asa Dotzler said on February 24th, 2009 at 3:30 pm:

    I think there’s something about how other desktop applications handle URLs that could be important here. Microsoft currently provides a mechanism that launches IE with a specific URL and other applications use this to “hard wire” themselves to IE rather than to the system default browser.

    In practice, this means that clicking links in other desktop apps circumvents the user’s browser choice and launches IE.

    If Windows was designed such that all URLs, dispatched from anywhere in the system, loaded in the user’s chosen application, I think that would be a good outcome.

  5. 5

    Gen Kanai said on February 24th, 2009 at 3:42 pm:

    Note that Google has applied to the EU to join the antitrust case against Microsoft.

    “Google believes that the browser market is still largely uncompetitive, which holds back innovation for users,” Sundar Pichai, a vice president for product management, wrote in a Google blog. “This is because Internet Explorer is tied to Microsoft’s dominant computer operating system, giving it an unfair advantage over other browsers.”

  6. 6

    The Hater said on February 24th, 2009 at 3:50 pm:

    Asa: I think that would fall under “Windows can’t provide a technical advantage to IE” but I think it definitely deserves getting in there explicitly, even just as an example alongside the equality of API access.

    Gen: Fantastic news! That should throw some extra behind things (in a good way).

  7. 7

    Mitchell Baker said on February 24th, 2009 at 4:11 pm:

    Yes, identifying all the ways in which windows sucks people back to IE is important; thanks Asa.

  8. 8

    Asa Dotzler said on February 24th, 2009 at 6:29 pm:

    Not quite sure how to say this clearly, but microsoft’s absolute domination of the Web browser space has give the blue “e” icon a meaning beyond just Internet Explorer. Most people on computers today associate the blue e with the Internet itself.

    That disadvantages competing browsers that are seen as something separate from the internet because they’re not the blue e.

    Given a choice between two icons, the blue e and say the Opera “o”, most people will probably chose the blue e because they know that as ‘the internet”.

    It’s only because of Microsoft’s illegal activity that this state arose, but no one can doubt that it gives MS an unfair advantage. The blue e is tainted by Microsoft’s illegal behavior and so are the advantages that it offers Microsoft.

    An outcome that I think would help competition and help educate users about choice is the elimination of that icon.

  9. 9

    Ken Saunders said on February 24th, 2009 at 7:44 pm:

    I think that all are reasonable potential principles with the following exceptions.

    IE may not ask to become the default browser or make itself the default browser…
    I’m ok with cannot make itself the default browser, but wouldn’t the first section preclude other browsers from doing the same?

    Windows may not include a browser…
    That’s just not realistic.

    Windows must ship with alternative browsers installed and offer users a choice.
    This is what I believe to be the best remedy overall. IE still gets to ship with Windows and users will be made aware of their options there and then without having to learn of them years later thinking that IE is the only way to access and interact with the Internet. If they choose IE and don’t like it, they’ll know that there are other options and they are not stuck with IE. Currently it appears to be the one way to browse the Internet especially to those new to computing.

    Option to download other browsers must be presented when a user is updating IE
    It would then only be fair for other browsers to have to do the same and I certainly don’t want to be bothered by a prompt to install IE or any other browser when updating Firefox.
    Option to download other browsers must be presented when a user is updating Windows
    That wouldn’t be necessary (nor the one above it) if other browsers were offered to begin with.

    You know, instead of imposing, putting the decision to choose their own browser into the hands of Windows users could greatly help Microsoft.
    People grow to literally and sincerely hate Microsoft when they learn of how wronged that they have been by Microsoft’s lack of priorities by allowing their users to be kept at risk of losing their data and personal information.
    Then they learn of the monopolistic practices, and then finally, they get a new PC with Vista (the worst that MS has put out yet) and they (ok, me) decides to install Fedora within the next few days.
    I’d go with a Mac but I’d much rather eat.
    MS could avoid all of this by simply allowing people to choose for themselves (and not drawing so much attention to themselves).

    As for you Michael and “well, that’s too bad”, I wasn’t going to bother but that comment is just ridiculous, unnecessary, uneducated, and out right idiotic.
    Tell an elderly woman who’s trying to communicate with her family from afar “too bad” that you are struggling to do simple tasks and “too bad” that you didn’t know that there are better and much easier ways to do things.
    Or tell someone like me, a legally blind person “too bad” that you didn’t know that other browsers offer much more ways for you to be able to see and interact with a web site. When I used IE, I had to leave many sites due to the lack of accessibility options that would allow me to use that site or service. I imagine that there tens of thousands of others that still have to do the same.
    Last one, gee dad, “too bad” for you that you’re a victim of identity theft and now your name and finances are ruined. “Too bad” that you didn’t know that there are safer and more secure browsers out there.

    You really need to step outside of the box that you’re living in and view things from the perspectives of others. The World is much bigger and it doesn’t go away just because you turn off your computer.

    Finally, please go read up on antitrust (or competition) law to get a better idea of why Microsoft’s practices are wrong and quite possibly illegal.

    @ Asa,
    “Microsoft currently provides a mechanism that launches IE with a specific URL and other applications (etc). That thoroughly angers me especially when I have Firefox set to open just about every file type that IE typically would. There are obviously some formats that I can do nothing about so for the most part, I just don’t bother with those file types.

  10. 10

    Ken Saunders said on February 24th, 2009 at 7:47 pm:

    @ Asa (too – two?)
    Seriously true but LOL!
    Death to the Blue E!!

  11. 11

    leandro said on February 24th, 2009 at 7:54 pm:

    Like Opera with chat/irc/mail (only installs when I ‘open’ these functions in the browser), Windows would bring IE but ‘uninstalled’… only installs if a user double-click on its icon.
    This way IE doesn’t come pre-installed with Windows… and I could open my backup drive and double-click Firefox’s installer, and having only one browser in my SO.

    Sorry for my bad english. I’m learning and if someone could correct my text, i will be thankful 🙂

  12. 12

    Asa Dotzler said on February 24th, 2009 at 8:30 pm:

    Ken, I don’t think that because Microsoft is required to behave a certain way that others are required to behave the same way. Microsoft broke the law and is potentially going to have to behave in special ways because they broke the law. It doesn’t follow from that other browser vendors would also have to follow those same prescriptions.

  13. 13

    Gen Kanai said on February 24th, 2009 at 10:10 pm:

    “‘If the Commission’s preliminary conclusions as outlined in the recent statement of objections were confirmed, the Commission would intend to impose remedies that enabled users and manufacturers to make an unbiased choice between Internet Explorer and competing third party web browsers,’ Jonathan Todd, spokesperson for EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes, told EurActiv.”

    “To this end, Microsoft will be obliged to design Windows in a way that allows users ‘to choose which competing web browser(s) instead of, or in addition to, Internet Explorer they want to install and which one they want to have as default,’ Todd explained. A possible solution could be to present Windows users with a so-called ‘ballot screen’ from which they would choose their browser.”

    “Alternatively, it could be left up to computer or mobile phone manufacturers, such as Dell or Nokia, which support Microsoft Windows by default, to provide users with different browsers, in agreement with Microsoft.”

  14. 14

    Max Kanat-Alexander said on February 24th, 2009 at 11:14 pm:

    I think 1,2, 4, and perhaps 6 seem the most legally sensible. I don’t see any reason Microsoft should be legally bound to support competitors, but legally binding them not to *stifle* competition or give themselves an unfair advantage seems sensible to me.

    The other principles could only be justified on some limited-time basis as reparations for harming competition, I think.


  15. 15

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  16. 16

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  17. 17

    Tjaart Blignaut said on February 25th, 2009 at 1:16 am:

    I think a valid solution(By Microsoft) could be to include a software repository program that people can use to install any software(similar to *nix package managers). A browser can be listed as recommended software with categories and user friendly descriptions. The problem here would of course be with the above mentioned IE logo and also the word Internet in IE. IE is not only embeded in Windows, but also in the mind of the user.

  18. 18

    Rulfo said on February 25th, 2009 at 2:24 am:

    Come on. I cannot believe you want Microsoft to stop to use his E-logo. Is the next to forbid Microsoft selling anything but Windows?. ( Of course if windows logo is not used )

  19. 19

    foo said on February 25th, 2009 at 3:42 am:

    In general I don’t think this case is necessary. It is already easy to switch to a different browser in Windows, and the situation on Windows is not really any different from any other operating system. I think Mozilla are already doing a fine job of gaining market share, and it could damage your image to get too involved in this case. But if Mozilla must get involved, here’s what I agree and disgree with…

    1. Mostly agree – but I don’t have a problem with Microsoft websites having some IE specific features where it is not possible to provide that feature in another browser.

    2. Agree

    3. Don’t agree – Im not convinced that any of these solutions are reasonable, no other operating system that ships with a browser does any of this either. OEMs should be able to ship an alternative default browser, but that is all that is needed.

    4. Agree

    5. Don’t Agree – why should one company pay to market it’s competitors

    6. Agree

    7. Disagree – It would be dangerous to have goverments deciding what standards browsers should implement

  20. 20

    Neil said on February 25th, 2009 at 4:30 am:

    If I recall correctly, earlier versions of Windows would sometimes magically restore the IE icon to the startup menu, even if you had previously removed it — for example, after having installed Firefox. Is this still the case? If so, this would be another example of undesireable behavior.

  21. 21

    Ian M said on February 25th, 2009 at 4:42 am:

    Something Microsoft did with search providers was to list them in alphabetical order – doing this with any list of browsers a user can choose to install would be fairly important, so IE isn’t right at the top of the list.

  22. 22

    Ian M said on February 25th, 2009 at 4:50 am:

    Generally agree with 1-4 & 6 – don’t agree with 5 and 7.

    However, I really would like to try and get Microsoft to do better – I would suggest:

    – A non-binding declaration that Microsoft should keep up with “web standards” (the definition of which being left open) – more as something that people can PR about if they don’t

    – Perhaps – perhaps – a binding declaration that Microsoft should keep up with HTML and CSS standards, to a comparable extent that other browser vendors do. I’m really not sure about this.

    – I’d really like some way of getting Microsoft to support SVG and CANVAS – these are the biggies, of course.

    – Perhaps some method of specifying that proprietary things implemented by IE must be submitted to standards bodies, or potentially removed (or at least no new such features implemented) – possibly with exclusion if they develop open equivalents also (I’m thinking implementing SVG as the price of keeping VML)

  23. 23

    Ian M said on February 25th, 2009 at 5:06 am:

    (trying to keep each issue in a different comment so they can be permalinked-to)

    I think the two biggest _future_ threats are very clear – the AUDIO/VIDEO tags and Silverlight.

    I really think you need to push getting a non-proprietary platform-agnostic standard adopted by Microsoft – utilizing its monopoly in Windows to force proprietary Windows-only codecs seems like one of the easiest antitrust arguments one could possibly make.

    One additional measure that I think merits consideration – it should be possible to install third-party audio/video codecs, either via a “yellow bar” method or when someone installs software. That way, if you install Flash/Quicktime/RealPlayer/VLC/etc, they can include a parser to handle different codecs e.g. FLV/Quicktime formats/RealMedia/various open formats.

    I think, in some ways, AUDIO/VIDEO is potentially a bigger threat to the open web than having Flash and its closed formats – it really looks like somewhere that Microsoft can use already-developed proprietary functionality to get a stranglehold.

    Moving on to Silverlight, they need to:
    – DEFINITELY: Provide a proper patent license (for everyone, not just Novell customers, and compatible with GPLv3)
    – DEFINITELY – Make them provide it as a generic plugin for all browsers (so it works on Firefox/Safari/etc as a first-class citizen) – this is mostly the case already, but it needs to stay this way
    – IDEALLY: Support Moonlight (we really need to prevent them deliberately keeping a major competitor, GNU/Linux, behind)
    – HOPEFULLY: Make it properly open source

  24. 24

    Ian M said on February 25th, 2009 at 5:11 am:

    Also this absolutely, definitely, without a doubt has to be included in all versions of Windows sold in the EU – no more XP-N fiasco, where they make a crippled version for the same price no-one wants.

    Actually, on XP-N, might it be useful to get the Comission to review how this is going – obviously the answer is “it’s not working at all”, but to keep this open – perhaps tie into the AUDIO/VIDEO suggestions I made above?

    An additional suggestion – make them open the specs AND provide an acceptable (non-exclusive, GPLv3 compatible) patent license, for WMA/WMV (sans DRM), so that people (importantly, vendors like Dell) can install it on Linux without worries.

  25. 25

    Ian M said on February 25th, 2009 at 5:16 am:

    Plugins – Internet Explorer currently uses their entirely own type of plugin – I think forcing them to support NPAPI, and possibly somehow reducing usage of ActiveX plugins (suggestions welcome) would be very helpful to deal with the problem of companies having to make two different versions of a plugin, so have (historically, though as Firefox popularity increases this is less so) developed the IE one only.

  26. 26

    Ian M said on February 25th, 2009 at 5:24 am:

    With regards to bundling with partners – one of the biggest areas here at the moment is “search deals”, where search engines pay a vendor for theirs to be the default search engines.

    Interestingly, relatively recently, Microsoft’s big pockets here are leading them to be included as the defaults for most computers (HP and Dell are partners I know). Something to be wary of in the future – we don’t want it so that Microsoft can simply pay over what their competitors can afford pay (in the case of browser manufacturers – tiny) and get left with the same status-quo.

    I think declaring that a default search engine and a default browser have to be negotiated via two different agreements is worthwhile – doesn’t solve the above problem completely, but prevents Microsoft for requiring IE as the default when they get a vendor to sign up for Live Search.

    Alternatively, just make it impossible for Microsoft to offer financial incentives to ship their browser. It might – possibly – be made so that no-one can offer incentives, and the manufacturers can choose themselves.

  27. 27

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  28. 28

    Ian M said on February 25th, 2009 at 5:26 am:

    (you can delete this comment if you want)

    Mitchell – I wouldn’t mind seeing feedback on my suggestions via email.

    Or possibly, once all suggestions are in, writing a follow-up blog post detailing all the suggestions that have been made by everyone, and writing up Mozilla’s thoughts on them.

  29. 29

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  31. 31

    Jesper said on February 26th, 2009 at 1:51 am:

    I fully agree with principle 1.

    I don’t quite follow principle 2. While I think it would be nice, I don’t think it is something the EC should be involved in. However I do think that whenever Windows contains an API for doing something in IE and another for doing the same thing in the default browser, the documentation of the IE API must give a reference to the documentation of the default browser API, and it must recommend using the default browser API when appropriate. (e.g. the API of opening a web page in a browser mentioned by Asa)

    Principle 3 totally sucks. Why should MS advertise products from other companies? Easier installation, update and management of application is something that Windows definitely needs, but that has nothing to do with IE. The only point in principle 3 I can agree partly in is the third point, but IE already lives up to this point.

    I fully agree with principle 4.

    Principle 5 also sucks. Now we are just trying to misuse the EC to steal money from MS.

    I fully agree with principle 6. Just be careful in formulating that such that MS web development tools are allowed produce IE specific code as long as it provides the same functionality to other browsers (e.g. workarounds of IE bugs).

    Principle 7 sucks. Don’t make politicians choose which web standards are important.

    I don’t know if this belongs under any of the seven principles, but I think Windows should allow the IE front end to be uninstalled (I know that the back end is just as important for Windows as Java and Flash are for the web, so uninstalling the back end is not realistic). As part of principle 4, MS should then also allow OEM distributors to distribute copies of Windows where the IE front end is not installed and another browser is installed instead.

  32. 32

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  33. 33

    Michael said on February 26th, 2009 at 8:47 am:

    You really think Microsoft running stuff like the windows update page in IE keeps anyone from using Firefox or any other alternative browser?

    What I want to know: is this only because it’s Microsoft or are other OS distributors equally “bad”? Think Apple, who ship Safari as the default and surely provide a way to embed WebKit for use by third parties. Adium for example uses WebKit – my guess is, they do so because WebKit is pretty much the default HTML engine on OSX? Same for Linux, do you want all apps to be forced to use abstraction layers so that anyone can use a gecko plugin to get the functionality?

    It’s only natural to have a browser ship along the OS. If the manufacturer choses to only support certain function related to their product to a part of that product, that’s 100% within their right. Remember you buy the whole package… if you don’t like that, don’t use it, there are quite a few (better) alternatives today.

    That said, I can’t help finding it amusing to side with MS here, but your view of this (non-)issue is quite amusing. You don’t need to do this at all. Concentrate on what you do best: building great web technologies!

  34. 34

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  35. 35

    Ken Saunders said on February 26th, 2009 at 9:21 pm:

    Asa, so would it be a penalty of sorts or a way to attempt to level the playing field, or are those one in the same?

    And wouldn’t there be a time limitation to that? Lets just say (because it will happen) that Firefox surpasses IE’s market share, then what? The penalty (or penalties) gets lifted?

  36. 36

    Asa Dotzler said on February 26th, 2009 at 10:22 pm:

    Ken, I think that it should be both, and more. That’s just my personal opinion and perhaps not what the law or the courts say.

    IE’s successes, the market share, the brand recognition, the website lock-in, a lock on the primary distribution channel, the developer mind share, all of those and more are ill-gotten gains.

    They are a direct result of illegal activity, in my opinion, and they should be forfeited because no one should be allowed to profit from lawbreaking.

  37. 37

    Ken Saunders said on February 27th, 2009 at 1:05 am:

    Well said and understood, thanks.

  38. 38

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  39. 39

    Chriss said on February 27th, 2009 at 5:46 pm:

    The remedy list is obviously to redress the balance of web browsers, in which case why not make it a key principle: “MS must take action (ie actively promoting alternative browsers and/or freeze IE development) until IE market share is X% (say 30%)”.

    All the time IE’s market share is above a maximum limit, they are fined with proceeds used to advertise alternate operating systems and/or fund GPL based products which compete against them.

  40. 40

    Karl O. Pinc said on February 27th, 2009 at 7:04 pm:

    What has Microsoft done that needs fixing? it has used it’s monopoly position in the OS market to force a web browser on the end-user.

    In practice this means that Microsoft has conditioned the typical end-user click on the “blue e” to get to “the Internet”. Let me repeat that. Microsoft has used their monopoly position to force an association in the minds of the public between using the Internet and clicking on the “blue e” icon. The typical computer user thinks that in order to access the Internet they must click on the “blue e”. Seems to me that an essential remedy is to take the “blue e” away from Microsoft.

    There are 2 possible approaches. Make the “blue e” mean “the default browser”, or keep the “blue e” from being ubiquitous and have pre-configured systems use another icon in “the usual places”, the desktop and the start menu, to mean “the Internet”. An example of the second option would be to use, e.g., the “globe half” of the ‘blue e”, to mean “default browser”, and install the globe icon in the start menu and on the desktop and so forth. The “blue e” would only be allowed to appear down inside the menus along with the icons for whatever other browsers are installed.

    Of course end-users could reconfigure their menus however they like. What I’m talking about is controlling the use of the “blue e” icon on all systems shipped with MS Windows pre-installed.

  41. 41

    mitchell said on February 28th, 2009 at 8:43 am:

    Thanks for the thoughtful responses so far. They are very helpful.
    Ian, I will respond, I’m not sure exactly what that response will look like yet.

  42. 42

    Ian M said on March 2nd, 2009 at 5:10 am:

    One final thought that’s just come to me with regards to with regards to Windows Update.

    I think it’s quite reasonable for Microsoft to require Internet Explorer to use the Windows Update web site. However, it’s a problem if they get presented with Microsoft’s browser interface for a number of reasons (familiarity of seeing their UI, and the fact that many users will continue on to other web sites after visiting the Windows Update site).

    So here’s a suggestion – for the Windows Update icon that Microsoft display in Windows, they could run IE but in a “minified” interface, without an address bar, the “File,” Edit” (etc) menu bar, IE logo, browser toolbars, and pretty much anything apart from perhaps a back/forwards button.

    Additionally, if Microsoft include any links on the Windows Update site that leave this site for other sites (including Microsoft properties which are not Windows Update related), these should open in the users default browser.

    The end result would look something like Google Chrome’s application shortcuts, and would separate IE from Windows Update in the minds of end users whilst leaving the fundamental technical underpinnings unchanged, and so should also be relatively simple for Microsoft to implement.

  43. 43

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  44. 44

    Nishanth Shanmugham said on March 15th, 2009 at 9:32 pm:

    Why don’t you make an OS?

  45. 45

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  46. 46

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