Ubuntu Netbook Remix: Questions Answered

Ubuntu Netbook RemixTimed perfectly with the deluge of mini-notebook news coming out of Computex, Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, announced its new operating system: Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Set to arrive preinstalled on mini-notebooks later this year, the Ubuntu Netbook Remix will feature some of our open-source faves such as Firefox 3, Thunderbird, Pidgin, OpenOffice, Rhythmbox, FBReader, Lifrea, and F-spot. We sat down for a conversation with Gerry Carr, marketing manager at Canonical, to discuss the new Atom-powered OS that’s designed to make Ubuntu the face of the mini-notebook space. What is Ubuntu Netbook Remix and how does it differ from other Linux distributions? It’s not a distribution. Those are products with daily builds for end users to get the ISO and put on any PC. This isn’t. We’re calling it a remix, so basically it takes the core elements built into the desktop edition and it’s optimized for the Intel Atom processor. It’s built for small-factor machines and is fast-on, fast-off. It’s all about getting on the Web quickly, as that’s the primary user experience on these machines. It’s built equally for touch as it is for mass driven. Do you see touch becoming an important part of this space? Oh, yes. Maybe not in the first generation of these machines, but I think in the second generation you’ll quickly see touch being utilized as well as mass driven depending on what you’re doing. It’ll be a much more important part of that category; that’s why the interface is built for that type of experience. You’ve got much larger icons that you can use with your finger. I was surprised when I saw the redesign because it’s so radically different than anything else we’ve seen from Canonical. Yes, it is. Really, it’s not for the end user, so we give much more of a blank canvas than with our standard desktop edition. So the Netbook Remix is really for OEMs, for people who build machines. It’s a fast way for these guys to get into the netbook market. These guys are experts in hardware, not generally operating systems. So we’re giving them an operating system that we tested against their machines and certified. It shouldn’t take much if it’s built on the Intel Atom processor. What have you done with Intel to optimize the new platform for Atom? Canonical has been working closely with Intel for more than a year on support for the Intel Atom processors. The optimizations mostly center around taking advantage of the power-saving extensions afforded by the Intel Atom processors, as well at some boot optimizations. What are the minimum requirements? An Intel Atom processor, 512MB of RAM, and a minimum of 4GB of storage capacity. What is the maximum screen resolution? The minimum screen resolution for UNR is 1024 x 600, and I have not yet seen any devices with higher resolution. The UI certainly works at higher resolutions, but I think we need more feedback to know whether it is practical. What’s the boot time like? It’s about 5 to 10 seconds. Is there a chance that you’ll work with VIA or are you Intel only? What we’re announcing today is Intel. Will the Netbook Remix have a standard interface across the board, or can OEMs tweak it? It’s a little bit of both. The standard interface is the fastest way to get into the market, but it can be configured to a specific manufacturer’s requirements. What advantages does Netbook Remix have over other flavors of Linux or Windows XP? There aren’t many Linux flavors in this space. Through a number of initiatives, it’ll have access to a much richer base than XP has. But what’s interesting is that it’s up to the consumer. So when you go into a retail store at the end of this year and you see two systems—one running Linux and one running XP-there certainly won’t be any vast differences in the price, or the advantage of Microsoft coming pre-installed and working out of the box—it’ll be the same on both. You mentioned that Linux has a much richer base than XP due to a number of initiatives. What did you mean by that? I meant that there is a much richer world of commercial and open-source apps available though the use of an open platform like Linux than in using a proprietary vendor. For a manufacturer stepping out with an open platform, this will allow them access to a constantly growing, rich development community where they will benefit from the gravity effect of the investments being made through projects like Moblin to get more and better software on devices. Using a recognized and popular OS like Ubuntu only accelerates that process. For the user, there is the reassurance of selecting a constantly evolving platform that is a nexus of innovation. You might experience this passively as cool new apps or functions, but an open platform is also the chance to participate, to [exchange] feedback, make requests and get involved in improving the platform you use—an experience virtually unknown to users of proprietary systems. What exactly is Moblin’s role in Ubuntu Netbook Remix? Mobiln is a big move by Intel, not unlike Google’s Android, to be a center of gravity for open-source applications. For example, a calendar could be developed in Moblin and lots of other developers can take it and put it in their product. We’re a contributor to Moblin, and a lot of the stuff we’re developing will be pushed into Moblin and made generally available. We’ll also be taking from Moblin. Who is the target demo of netbooks running your OS? The target audience, we’re told by the hardware manufacturers putting this into market, are millions of machines. In developing markets, it may be a primary notebook between $300 and $500. In the developed market, it’ll be a second PC. Think the soccer mom, or someone that wants to take it to the café. You’ve mentioned that Ubuntu Netbook Remix isn’t for the end user; can a person actually download it? We traditionally make an ISO available that can be burned to CD. But there’s been some confusion about the Netbook Remix being made the same way. It won’t be. If you are an experienced Linux user you can go to our PPA—what we call our personal product archives. They’re basically storage repositories. There you’ll find the launcher. If you know what you’re doing and are willing to do things that we don’t recommend, you can get that PPA and put that on top of your desktop image and make it work. We make it available, but it is absolutely not recommended for someone with a Eee PC who, say, decides to get the Netbook Remix and try to make it work themselves. It can be done, but it’s not recommended for the standard user. Why did you move away from the ISO model for the preinstalled model? Because the netbook is a different category of computer without a dominant OS. To put it another way, if the PC market started tomorrow likely we would make Ubuntu available as a free option preinstalled. The fact is that the majority of the world’s PCs ship with Windows, so we make an ISO available to displace Windows on people’s machines or give them something to install on a clean machine. We work tirelessly with PC manufacturers to ship Ubuntu preinstalled and have success like the well-publicized Dell deal, but also very large shipments in Brazil, Russia, India, and many other emerging economies. The netbook is new, there is room for more than one player, and it is of enormous convenience for the consumer to have their OS certified and preinstalled. It is likely that we will, over time, make an ISO available, but it is less a market about displacement. If you want Ubuntu, and you want this device, you can simply go and buy it.

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  1. Lupis42 Says:

    On what netbook can I buy it? I want it on the wind/eeepc that I plan to buy next week.

  2. J-F Bilodeau Says:

    The tone of the answer concerns me a bit. I’m hoping I’m wrong, but much of the wording sounds like careful marktingspeak. The language is not as strong as what I’m accustomed from other companies, but I’m hoping that Ubuntu/Canonical doesn’t become another fat/faceless corporation whose every word is carefully chosen instead of genuine answers.

    I’m also concerned about the lack of ISO for Remix. I understand the argument about pre-installed software, but as a distrowhore, I wish I could easily download it and slap it onto my machines, like I do with the regular Ubuntu distro. Furthermore, what if I lust after a machine that comes with another Linux OS, but I decide to give Remix a go? I hope that Canonical will continue to offer Ubuntus that are a pleasure to install and use.

    Linux is about community and choice. Ubuntu seemed to understand this from the very beginning. I hope they do not forget that!

  3. Victor Tramp Says:

    I don’t know why an ISO would hurt.. I wonder if it’s Intel which gives them the idea that making hard to install is a GOOD idea.. weirdness.

  4. Mark Says:

    In fairness, I think that the effort to make this easy to install may be considered a waste of time, given the limited situations to install it. They are not restricting freedom; looking for the correct Debian download can be confusing, but no one questions their motives! :)

  5. Bob Says:

    Buyers will need a restoration method for mishaps, and it seems a re-install CD would be included. An iso of that would exist, as it would for any disc. Is there a reason it would be designed preferably as an image to directly restore the internal drive content rather than a live/install distro image? If an installation instruction set and all the components are accessible for a non- “standard user”, it would only be an inconvenient way to obtain the same product. I’m not clear on how one would patch together the remix as he described, but he did say they may release an ISO eventually.

    Where did the rationale/logic that ISOs are designed for displacement come from? LiveCDs are designed for testing or use-without-installation and could be considered “displacement” media, but not the ISO. Not all ISOs are liveCDs. The last two paragraphs do indeed sound like maneuvering to limit Remix use to new hardware to affect its marketing. It would be anti-competitive behavior linking hardware and software just like MS and Apple.

  6. happy_tux Says:

    Well I suppose we have a bewilderment of 50 million “other” Linux iso cds available, if that’s the route you want to go down. What’s the problem if canonical pre install a os only?

    I think its a great idea (look at eeepc) that makes marketing a complete package easier and better for the consumer. None of this “Buy the umpc and install our OS jargon”. At least normal users can use the laptop and be pleasantly surprised (hopefully:) their using Linux at the core.
    Anything that comes with Linux pre installed is good. Don’t forget what Linux is made up of…GPL. So don’t think corporate Linux is going to run off with it and keep it for themselves and goodbye to its makers, the community…

    I for one will be queuing up to get this.

  7. kon Says:

    I think they are just giving a hint that they will charge user for this new product.

  8. phraedus Says:

    The move to not release the ISO for Ubuntu’s Netbook Remix seems to lock in the operating system to the hardware it is preinstalled to ship with. Although it not as bad as TIVO not reciprocating to the open source community by requiring a digital certificate to install modified software on its hardware. this political move is comparable since it utilises the contributions of the open source community, but doesn’t make those contributions easily accessible to the community.

  9. Russell Nelson Says:

    Um, why would you want an ISO when the device doesn’t have a CD or DVD drive? (I’m just askin’).

  10. Brandon Says:

    Releasing a distribution is a huge task and while Ubuntu makes it looks easy with their 6 month cycle, they can’t simply release an ISO for this netbook remix without a lot of additional effort and support. He said the software will be available and you are free to download it. They are just not going to invest the time to create a distribution around it at this point. It is very specifically tailored towards the Intel Atom and may not even work well on whatever an end-user geek might want to put it on.

  11. mitch cook Says:

    I agree with the person above. ISO doesn’t do you much good when your laptop doesn’t have an optical drive!
    they are not releasing ISO’s because they are basing the software to run off of the Atom!!!
    throwing this operating system on your Q6600 with a geforce 9800gx2 is silly and it wouldn’t work!
    they are not going to charge for their operating system.

  12. YJ Says:

    Canonical is doing what is of interest to them. If they are not planning to distribute UNR without the hardware why would they waste precious time to package it all up as an ISO and then support it? If anyone is interested in packaging it up then they should do this by themselves. That’s what open-source is all about. Don’t like an OSS product? Get the source code and modify it to your needs. Don’t blame the original developer for not doing what you want.

    As an example, take a look at the relationship between RHEL and CentOS. RedHat is not interested in packaging their code for you. They just don’t have time for it. So a group of volunteer does this for them. That’s it. Similarly, if there is big interest in the community to make an ISO distro of UNR people will volunteer for the job.

  13. FordP Says:

    I think more the point here is that each product will have a slightly tweaked version. The business model of Canonical is a service one. They will charge the hardware manufacturers for Canonical’s efforts to make Netbook do what the Hardware Manufacturer would like for their product. Assuming the rates are reasonable to both sides this should be healthy.

    In an ideal world all the software should be written and released under the GPL which will guarantee the free (liberty) side of things.

    You can be sure that if Ubuntu do not release Netbook for a popular target that others will !

    We shall see in due course!

  14. Gerry Carr Says:

    I think I have given rise to un-needed speculation. It is available; it is under GPL and it is free and you can find the code here; https://edge.launchpad.net/netbook-remix

    People are downloading it; running it in various types of hardware and reporting bugs.But we don’t recommend an ordinary use with no Linux skills does this and uses it as their primary OS, the way we do with the standard release. The vast majority of people will experience it as a pre-installed OS on a netbook. It will be optimised for whatever hardware device it ship on, which is a service we offer to the manufacturer, but you are absolutely free to remove the inbuilt OS and put your own version of the netbook remix on it should you wish.

    Nothing has changed except Ubuntu will be more readily available pre-installed on machines at retail. Which can only be a good thing.

  15. Rubén - Hubuntu Says:

    I’m gonna get home and give this a spin.

    The ISO thing is easy to circumvent:

    1. Install Ubuntu LTS 8.04 in any machine, they way you like (Floopy, CD, Netboot).
    2. Do the Markus trick (from google cache):
    3. Have fun!

    I guess you can skip the Virtual machine in step 2 and just put the Netbook remix as your Ubuntu standard, but be careful if you have some valuable info in your machine.


    Great news!

  16. Lee Says:

    I don’t mind paying canonical for their adaptation of linux – providing there is good HW support, very few – or no bugs, reasonable security, and a refreshing GUI. Oh yes, and adequate file format support. My problem has never been one of cost, but that of choice. I want an alternative to Windows, but won’t allow myself to get ripped-off by apple. Maybe if Linux Distros were able to charge more people, but keep the price reasonable, and usage simple, the companies may make more money.
    In short, I want options – but I’m prepared to pay for them.

  17. DieB Says:

    well as said in the interview you can go down to ppa and do the steps through you even can make your live/alternate cd, but its work (or lets better say it takes time) – “as compiling source code”.

    here is a howto:

    not mentioned is the fact that you need certain codecs, that are propiatory, to get into some kind a market. And probably ubuntu seeks to get a wide consumer market to later on earn money by distributing commercial software as they started with that ibm database app and parallels.

    And as for: we are all humans, so we need something to eat. Canonical has money, thats true. But without revenue every company is no company (atleast for the future). But the fragile situation on the finance markets can change that.

    And the imo most freedom driven legal output of the FLOSmovement is the gpl, so alot of software including the linux-kernel, is free. So i guess they will keep delivering their work free.

    Asus itself uses linux to sell their hardware.

    That’s what it is: profit driven economy

  18. Lea Says:

    “Um, why would you want an ISO when the device doesn’t have a CD or DVD drive?”

    Simple, you either use a USB CD/DVD drive, or put it on a USB memory stick or SD card and install from that. Or they may wish to install it on a virtual machine to check it out that way.

  19. Blake Graham Says:

    I thought he made it pretty clear why they aren’t making an iso available – It isn’t designed to be a finished product. He didn’t use those words because it sounds bad on Canonical’s part – but the point is, the product they will be releasing is designed to be tweaked, which is why they’re directing it at OEMs. Do you go to the dealership and find car chassis for sale? No. Ford or Honda or whoever may sell them to you, but don’t expect to buy one and go driving that afternoon – so it is with the netbook remix. Canonical took Ubuntu, stripped it, added some support for Atom’s bells and whistles, and a finger friendly interface, and the rest is up to third parties.

  20. Victor Tramp Says:

    well installing from an ISO isn’t limited to optical devices.. and frankly i’m not against Canonical (or anybody) pre-installing linux on hardware. I do question the (hardware) industry’s choice to once -again- be gearing up to flood the market with what seems like ever-so-slightly-different non-standardized hardware which makes a generic (albeit embedded/paired down/limited) linux distro seem an unacceptable idea.

    The nice thing about that linux is available in a myriad of distros is that they’re all a uniform platform for a myriad of standardized hardware which. when amalgamated, make a variety of basically similar PCs. Now we have a whole new class of devices on the brink of reaching the market (UMPCs/MIDs/Mininotes) and we’re supposed to believe that they’re all somehow magically SO different, from an engineering standpiont, that there’s no room for generic platform releases which would cover all the new devices much the same way as their PC and laptop counterparts?

    Even with the architechture differences [Nano vs. Atom vs. Tegra], i call shennanigans.. they’re all still using standard memory and bus interfaces like PCI, ATA, ACPI, USB, even the video chips are standard..

    This is just Canonical practicing artifical lock-in.. Which, being a service organization, I can’t fault them for either.. But it nags at me because it give me the impression of distracting development energy away from what -should- be happening; what paints the -best- future for solid state, miniturized platforms, which is total OS abstraction.. but whatever.. Really I blame Intel really for talking them into doing it the Old School(tm) way, it’s not like a Linux company to make that kind of decision.

    Canonical -is- probably also doing it to simplfy their time-to-market. Getting the UI right in embedded apps is very important and demands a certain level of rigidity. Raising the customization bar and trying to establish a low power, consumer friendly UI on newly designed hardware, from whole cloth, is no small task. Also, there isn’t really One Good Initiative out there for touchscreens and UMPCs. Interface design differs for fingers than for mice and keyboards, which have well established conventions and ideas..

    So it’s entirely understandable to me that Canonical would approach Ubuntu Mobile and Netbook Remix like this, but it rubs me the wrong way because it’s so OBVIOUSLY a business decision and NOT a technical decision. Not that doing things for business reasons is evil or anything, it’s just dishonest to try to put it in some other light.. and that dishonesty is what makes me despair. It’d make me more want to contribute if they were more forthcoming about that..

    I still hope it succeeds, and I hope that they (and other distros which tackle the handheld market) eventually DO generalize their releases.. and knowing the open source crowd that’s exactly what’ll happen, thank goodness.


  21. Matt Says:

    I am SOOOO hacking my new UMPC to run this…. more and more I am impressed with Ubuntu Linux and the open source platform as a whole.

    Now if only I could make it my dayjob. :)

  22. gorkon Says:

    The iso CAN be booted off of a USB CDROM drive. So not releasing a ISO IS a big deal. ISO’s will be needed for re installation plus they make it a hell of alot easier for people who want to be a OEM, but may or may not have the ability to make the changes they need to make to the standard ubuntu packages. Alot of OEM’s won’t have anything but hardware experience and if yu pick the right hardware, you don’t need programming experience to set this up.

    Anyway, since it is open, I DO see other distros that are ubuntu based doign this anyway or other people just going right to ubuntu and making a version of Ubuntu that will use the Netbook interface.

  23. magazine lover Says:

    just read two reviews from this site and i guess I’ll be a frequent visitor here.. This is very informative for individuals who are not that techie like me.. thanks!

  24. David Prentice Says:

    I think the whole “no iso” thing is a non-issue. UNR will, by necessity, be hardware specific. There won’t be a generic UNR. There will be UNR-for-manufacturer or UNR-for-hardware. Read Shuttleworth’s blog for more. Ubuntu will encourage manufacturers to use a standardized UNR for standardized Ubuntu support and backporting, but one of the things that makes the UNR unique is that it has to be very tailored and hardware specific. No generic kernel with a generic load of hardware support, but tailored specific support exclusive to the hardware that each UNR flavor is expected to run on, and without a doubt tailored and branded with each manufacturer’s specific needs in mind. We’ve seen the generic, you can download the UNR-specific desktop tools (I love WindowPickerApplet and Maximus), but we haven’t seen UNR-HP or UNR-Asus or UNR-Acer or eeeUNR.

    Should Canonical release isos for UNR? Why? That support should be through the manufacturer’s webpage. Need to reinstall UNR-HP on your laptot, you download from HP.com, not Ubuntu.com.

    I see the lack of isos for UNR as protecting Canonical’s ability to sell UNR to manufacturers. Readily available generic isos from Canonical would make it too easy for UNR to be installed and end users expecting support that has never been paid for. Then who benefits?

    The 5-10sec boot time may be partly due to flash storage and SSD, but I think those times are really coming from LinuxBIOS, which further complicates the concept of releasing a generic downloadable iso for public consumption.

    OTOH, the source will be available anyways so if you absolutely had to have a netbook remix of something other than Ubuntu this could probably be accomplished by springboarding off of Canonical’s work. But lets not forget that Canonical is a business, not a charity, and that there is nothing wrong with turning a profit off of open source software.

  25. Caleb Says:

    Most comments here seem ill informed.
    Add the ppa repository mentioned.
    install the packages.
    You have the system working.
    And it works and looks quite nice too, even on my old thinkpad laptop.

  26. Kalleboll Says:

    “Brandon: they can’t simply release an ISO for this netbook remix without a lot of additional effort and support.”

    Much smaller distros than Ubuntu manage to release ISOs without financial support. The community could and would support it if it was a normal release. I.e. a version of Ubuntu with fixes, not a new distro which this IS – regardless of what they say. You forget that GNU/Linux is not about companies, it is about communities (including companies). Thus there is only one reason for doing this. They want more control over free software in commercial interest.

    Intel are probably paying them to do this. It sucks. The innovation coming from the community will go into this “product” and it will not be accessible to the mainstream user (the target group for Ubuntu) unless they buy some fancy (Intel) hardware.

    Secondly, it will be labelled as a official Ubuntu edition and gain the same status as Desktop and Server – and thus push other, more open solutions, to the back room.

    Will that Atom optimized code go into the desktop distro in the same fashion? Will those touch-screen interfaces be accessible to the desktop distro? Will those boot optimizations be available for us? Will manufactures release drivers for their touch screens or will they restrict access to partners (such as Canonical Netbook Remix)? Probably not, because then we don’t need Ubuntu Netbook Remix at all – just a few scripts optimizing the desktop platform.

    Canonical is perhaps starting to foster a free open source movement working for them, not a community working together.. this is a frog leap into the past!

  27. Kalleboll Says:

    “Should Canonical release isos for UNR? Why? That support should be through the manufacturer’s webpage. Need to reinstall UNR-HP on your laptot, you download from HP.com, not Ubuntu.com.”

    You have no idea what you are talking about. You must be a huge corporate ass kisser (where ever you work). Canonical is a business, but that don’t give them the right or justification to restrict Ubuntu. Unfortunately, I think these words are wasted on you – you just don’t understand free open source software. Canonical is important for Ubuntu. However, they don’t own Ubuntu, they are not responsible for the success of Ubuntu – they are a reasonably large part of the Ubuntu community and Shuttleworth is a pioneer (don’t confuse that with his company). Nothing more, nothing less. Look up the word community in your dictionary.

  28. Joe Says:

    What’s the big deal. The code is being made available and various groups are porting it to specific netbooks. Take a look at http://onelinux.org/

    Unfortunately, the soccer moms are turning down linux and going for XP. I was saddened that I have no OS choice with the new Acer One that is coming out. They opted to put XP on all their new netbooks.

  29. Dan Says:

    Well folks.

    It would seem that people are placing themselves on either sides of the fence and shouting out opinions in the hope that the loudest shall prevail. sounds awfully like our wonderfully standard democratic model.

    Me, Myself and I. Not to be outdone i will talk a bit about my position, though i will be akin to those spineless dweebs of every government who sit in the middle and bleet with whoever will provide more benefit to there position. oh if only i werent a sheep.

    I would have liked to have an iso image for the simple reason that i could boot it as a live distro and see what it was like – i have been looking for exactly this kind of software for the last two days (about 10 hours of steady research and forum posting) and now that i have found it i would love to try it out. It pains me not to….

    However i appreciate the companies position and am so grateful for all the hard work they have all ready put in that i would never dream of asking for more. so here i am stuck with having to wait until i get home and fireup some old clapper of a machine and install it on that to see how it performs (at grandparents place minus a muck around pc :( )

    So there you have it would want it (really bad) but would never ask for it. its so much more work for as stated little gain. perhaps some other group can put a live disc enviroment together. Not entirely sure how much work is involved in this.

    Here is a question, with what has been given to us (the comunity) is it possible to mount or files onto a usb and boot off of that. or is it that without the live cd iso that this cannot be generated.


  30. diddle Says:

    the idea of having a remix tailored for a specific device is praiseworthy, users of linux will already know how to use it, users of ubuntu flavours will already love it, and knowing it does everything the hardware does without any tinkeriing or setting is just what everybody wants out of the box.

    yes dan it’s easy to boot images from usb on these netbooks and anyone with an atom processor will have an optimal experience if not full support for their device but the real use of this remix approach is to have the fundamental nix on the netbook and alternative os boots on cards and sticks. i hope asus update their default flavour of xandros for the eeepc900 series to something more like this.

    the idea of touchscreen netbooks seems to still be on the increase, many users have literally hacked them in already and companies are all chatting about their release dates, personally i await a dualscreen like a nintendo ds style netbook with a touchscreen virtual keyboard that can dissappear to be used on it’s side as an interactive book with facing pages! ebooks will come back i tell you…

    oh and note everybody, hardware costs money, data costs time.

  31. Mark Says:

    An iso is available from

  32. Mike Says:

    I’m upset because a.) I’ve been using Ubuntu since 6.04 and b.) I just bought an eeepc 1000ha that came with only Win XP on it. (And by the way, you reinstall windows on it by connecting an external DVD to it so yes an ISO could be used). I happen to like what the remix looks like but essentially Gregg is just telling me to go stick it for having a reseller that only stocks win xp. I guess their point is we work with company A to bring out this product so if you want it…you can’t buy from company B. That may seem ok to some but Ubuntu is supposed to be a COMMUNITY project available to all for all. Many of us have helped build this project by using it and showing it and spreading the word hence making it the top distro and many others put in many hours of volunteer time into coding for it. All this, it seems, just so Ubuntu can leverage this position into a business proposition.

  33. Ron Cad Says:

    I have also been using Ubuntu netbook remix 9.10 for a whilenow, but then with this last update something happened that will not allow be to download fromthe ubuntu software centre. does anyone know how to fix this ?

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