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Running vanilla Windows 98 in 2020 and beyond...


Wunderbar98
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Thank-you MrMateczko. XMPlay is decent, very lightweight, no install needed, lots of audio support, good for Windows 9x plus. Great to see software that's still being developed for Windows 9x. Not a 'skins' guy but i just can't get used to the interface, default or custom. Works well otherwise. Will play around a bit more and get some experience. Some skins don't display as intended as vanilla Windows 98 lacks some custom fonts, noted as a popup when the skin is selected. Not a big issue as the skin then utilizes another system font.

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23 hours ago, Wunderbar98 said:

Traditionally i never paid anything for old hardware, just used other peoples left over junk

Same here. Got about 12-14 units around me in this room, most of which might still work if provided proper peripherals and power. Scarce physical space though, and not enough peripherals. Ranging from my first computer ever - a 486DXII-66MHz IBM PS/ValuePoint - to some Intel dual core or so (that one I actually bought at the flea market).

23 hours ago, Wunderbar98 said:

To me the P4 is really the ultimate hardware right now, the sweet spot between being able to run the really old stuff like DOS and Windows 9x yet still SSE2 capable for the latest GNU/Linux with the latest web browser.

There are old archived third-party Pale Moon builds for early generations PentiumII/III and AMD Duron/Athlon lacking SSE2 and even for non-SSE CPUs. Unfortunately they only work in XP and later. Courtesy of user Mercury:
- IA-32 (non-SSE) builds are here. Forum discussion (locked) here.
- SSE-only builds are here. Forum discussion (locked) here.
There is also a SSE-only Linux version here. Courtesy of user Walter Dnes. Forum discussion (locked) here.
At the same archive location one may also find old versions for Raspberry Pi 2, Slackware, and maybe others. Please check the Pale Moon forum board for topics related to these versions.

20 hours ago, MrMateczko said:

For an alternative to Winamp I'm recommending again XMPlay

Nice find, it's been a long long time since I last visited their site, used to dabble with the BASS plug-in in AutoHotkey.
I wonder if all additional plug-ins are also compatible with Win9x without requiring KernelEx.
Trying it under Wine first, just for kicks. Requires at least one change in winecfg: comctl32.dll set as native, otherwise the Preferences panel will be empty. Same goes for Winamp 2. However, after finishing with the settings comctl32 must be set back to built-in and XMPlay reloaded, otherwise it will crash when trying to add a file/URL to playlist.
For now it failed with UK BASS RADIO and s2.stationplaylist links but does play The HUM and most others (from links somewhere above). Will try to add some plug-ins, see if that fixes those stations.
EDIT: added a few plug-ins including the one for AAC and now both previously failing stations are working.

Edited by Drugwash
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Thanks for trying to help Drugwash. Unfortunately Pale Moon from Walter Dnes is already over 2 years old, just like the last SeaMonkey my non-SSE2 systems use. The Slackware release linked is from 2015. Pale Moon has subsequently released lots of updates. Once major browsers switched to an SSE2 requirement some time ago no major updates to non-SSE2 browsers are anticipated. These two year old browsers already show their age on sites that require the latest JavaScript. On the bank site i use some of the data input fields no longer work. Complaining doesn't help once they know you're not using their recommended OS and latest browser. The only SSE2 capable system here is an 11 year old netbook, which is more functional in this situation, but for me a desktop is preferred. It's okay Santa pre-approved a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B. I will just continue to use a KVM switch with all that sweet old Windows 98 goodness just a button push away.

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XMPlay is sweet indeed, got a skin that works for me - WMP10 v2 (grey).xmpskin. Streaming some nice Christmas music. For anyone that wants something really lightweight that keeps the registry clean, the entire XMPlay directory including skin and playlist is 501 KB. Don't think any plugins were installed yet, not that they need much space. Compare to Winamp, which truly is also good, with an install footprint of 19.4 MB - almost 40x larger. Process Explorer also displays less CPU usage with XMPlay while streaming, almost non-existance on this 800 MHz system. Another keeper in the toolbox.

Modified my AutoHotkey script to better fine tune volume control. Instead of each keystroke stepping volume by a factor of '5' it's now '1'.
#Up::SoundSet +1
#Down::SoundSet -1
#Left::SoundSet, +1, , mute
#Right::Soundplay, %A_WinDir%\Media\notify.wav
#o::Drive, Eject
#c::Drive, Eject,, 1

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You're starting to master your AHK scripts, good for you. In no time more complex actions will become very easy to perform through hotkeys. Then maybe you'll start building GUIs for fine tweaking settings or converging multiple actions in a single button click. Soon you'll realize you became a hobbyist programmer. Just like me :)

1 hour ago, Wunderbar98 said:

Don't think any plugins were installed yet, not that they need much space.

There are a couple of built-in plug-ins that come with the main executable. At least the additional AAC plug-in should be installed for certain radio stations to work (as mentioned above). Maybe other formats would be required by other stations, haven't checked this in depth.
It may be best to create subfolders for plug-ins and skins in order to keep the main folder clean. I did create a skins subfolder, copied/unpacked there all skins found on the official site, and they are recognized without problems. I suspect the same would be the case with plug-ins in case many of them would be installed.
After briefly reviewing all the installed skins I settled for Euphoria, at least for now. The only thing bothering me is that playlist cannot be resized, at least not with this particular skin.
The extended playlist shows the encoding types of the files and radio stations, and intelligently strikes with a red line those that cannot be played due to missing plug-in or other reason(s). The encoding type can also be displayed by the default playlist; just right-click the playlist and choose Display columns > Type.

2 hours ago, Wunderbar98 said:

Once major browsers switched to an SSE2 requirement some time ago no major updates to non-SSE2 browsers are anticipated.

Hopefully you're not mistaking SSE2 for SSL2. SSE/2/3 are CPU instruction sets that depend on the CPU hardware generation. The compiler used to build the application can be instructed to use one, the other or none of those sets at build time, thus resulting (in)compatibility with certain CPU generations, such as first AMD Duron generation that does not have any SSE whatsoever. The IA-32 builds of Pale Moon by Mercury were built at my request and tested them on an old machine running XP-SP3 on such Duron CPU. Whether those builds can use SSL2/3 or TLS1/2 - that I don't know.

Now, newest changes in code as well as the maintainer's upgrade of the OS and building environment led to the application losing even XP compatibility. Given time it's most likely it will lose Win7 compatibility too, then Win8.x and so on. If it will still exist by then.

There is a theoretical possibility that someone else takes the code, replaces newer APIs with those existent in Win98, changes building settings to match latest IDE that can produce Win9x-compatible executables and libraries, and builds a perfectly Win9x-compatible Pale Moon. I say theoretical possibility because that would be a huge, close to impossible endeavour given all the changes that would be required. On top of that, performing same changes additionally to tracking and adapting each new changes or additions with each minor/major version would be exhausting and time-consuming even for someone with no other responsibilities whatsoever. Even restoring XP compatibility would be a hard task, otherwise someone might've taken on it by now, I guess.

Unfortunately the above is valid for much/most of the current software, although exceptions such as XMPlay show that when there's a will there's a way. And since this defective world runs almost exclusively on money and not on good will, we will never see the real freedom of using whatever hardware and software we want/like/own/afford while having them all indiscriminately compatible with the services they'd have to operate with.
I wonder, if - or when - machines will have taken over the Earth, would they immediately end this hardware & software discrimination, or would they behave exactly like us humans have done with each-other since forever...? Food for thought.

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Thanks for the feedback Drugwash. Good call, probably won't return to the XMPlay site so fetched: AAC input plugin, MIDI input plugin, SF2 soundfont. Like audio but don't know squat about setup and won't use most of their custom audio formats. Took a bit to get the soundfont running, sounds great but adds 27 MB of bloat. Will likely delete it as Windows Media Player v6.4 already handles MIDI.

Always thought MIDI was under-appreciated. There are still a lot of download sites around. Fondly remember converting a bunch of MIDI files into Theme Hospital (Bullfrog games) jukebox packs for my significant other's favourite Windows game.

No mistake, SSE CPU instruction as in GNU/Linux 'lshw | grep sse'. Wasted a lot of time today trying to get the highest GNU/Linux SSE-only browser to properly run a problematic banking site. IIRC can only handle up to Firefox ESR v52 and SeaMonkey v2.49. Chromium dropped SSE-only support before these other browsers. Even if some genius one-man-show hacked something together i still wouldn't use it for banking. Shame mainstream developers left behind perfectly good hardware. Wouldn't blame the machines for getting rid of us HUMANS, we've done a pretty good job of messing things up. Enough of my first world problem, hope everyone is safe and healthy.

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= Quickie FreeDOS v1.2 Review =

Used QEMU v0.8.2 in vanilla Windows 98 to install and test FreeDOS v1.2. Been wanting to trial it for a long time. Just a basic OS test, not online, no sound, no gaming or 3rd party software installs. It is obvious a lot of work has gone into development and distribution.

QEMU command used to create virtual disk (named freedos):
qemu-img.exe create freedos -f qcow 256M

QEMU command used to install FreeDOS:
qemu.exe -hda freedos -L . -cdrom fd12LGCY.iso -boot d

QEMU command used to run FreeDOS:
qemu.exe -hda freedos -L . -cdrom fd12LGCY.iso -boot c

Helpful QEMU shortcuts:
Ctrl-Alt to break out
Ctrl-Alt-f toggle fullscreen

Various installation images are provided on the FreeDOS website. The site has lots of goodies and information, including a wiki. The FD12LGCY.iso (418 MB) was downloaded, crazy big for a DOS system. However, it appears to have all of FreeDOS' software, organized into numerous directories: archiver, base, boot, devel, edit, games, net, pkginfo, sound, util. This should set up an extremely functional DOS environment. The ISO played nice with this old QEMU. A base install was selected. Nice installer, informative and user friendly.

After install, rebooting from the C: drive provides a boot menu with memory options. Even a base install has lots of extras. This includes good documentation, built-in help command, tab autocomplete, CTMOUSE.EXE, TREE.COM, UNDELETE.COM, UNZIP.EXE, XCOPY.EXE, memory managers, disk defragmenter and more. According to CHKDSK.EXE results the base install footprint appears to be about 9 MB. 'Fully-loaded DOS' might be more appropriate. How many developers worked on this compared to the MSFT army?

The file and directory structure is a bit different. For example, the kernel is KERNEL.SYS and CONFIG.SYS is now FDCONFIG.SYS, preconfigured to provide a nice boot menu. The default AUTOEXEC.BAT file is well populated with lots of REMarks, aliases and information. Some programs will be different, for example CHKDSK is utilized in place of SCANDISK.

The main DOS directory is FDOS. The C:\FDOS\APPINFO directory contains an information file for each major program. The C:\FDOS\PACKAGES directory contains a list file for each major program, listing which files that program has installed on the drive.

FreeDOS ran well and was stable. It pretty much just feels like you're running any other DOS, meant in a good way, obviously with lots of enhancements. If you're used to DOS, it's usage is intuitive and the learning curve is minimal.

Would i use FreeDOS? Yes if i needed a dedicated DOS install and didn't already own legitimate copies of Windows 95 and Windows 98, which provide the flexibility of booting into Windows. The only issue would be 3rd party software compatability, something that wasn't tested. Hearsay only, DOS gamers appear to occasionally report incompatabilities - no idea. FreeDOS is actively developed and supported with v1.3 RC2 released in December 2019. It is free, open source, GNU GPL licensing. Pretty cool, long live FreeDOS.

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22 hours ago, Wunderbar98 said:

Thanks for the feedback Drugwash. Good call, probably won't return to the XMPlay site so fetched: AAC input plugin, MIDI input plugin, SF2 soundfont. Like audio but don't know squat about setup and won't use most of their custom audio formats. Took a bit to get the soundfont running, sounds great but adds 27 MB of bloat. Will likely delete it as Windows Media Player v6.4 already handles MIDI.

Always thought MIDI was under-appreciated. There are still a lot of download sites around. Fondly remember converting a bunch of MIDI files into Theme Hospital (Bullfrog games) jukebox packs for my significant other's favourite Windows game.

No mistake, SSE CPU instruction as in GNU/Linux 'lshw | grep sse'. Wasted a lot of time today trying to get the highest GNU/Linux SSE-only browser to properly run a problematic banking site. IIRC can only handle up to Firefox ESR v52 and SeaMonkey v2.49. Chromium dropped SSE-only support before these other browsers. Even if some genius one-man-show hacked something together i still wouldn't use it for banking. Shame mainstream developers left behind perfectly good hardware. Wouldn't blame the machines for getting rid of us HUMANS, we've done a pretty good job of messing things up. Enough of my first world problem, hope everyone is safe and healthy.

Building pale moon for machines lacking SSE is pretty easy. Just specify -mno-sse2 in your .Mozconfig. 

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On 12/10/2020 at 3:23 AM, Drugwash said:

You're starting to master your AHK scripts, good for you. In no time more complex actions will become very easy to perform through hotkeys. Then maybe you'll start building GUIs for fine tweaking settings or converging multiple actions in a single button click. Soon you'll realize you became a hobbyist programmer. Just like me :)

There are a couple of built-in plug-ins that come with the main executable. At least the additional AAC plug-in should be installed for certain radio stations to work (as mentioned above). Maybe other formats would be required by other stations, haven't checked this in depth.
It may be best to create subfolders for plug-ins and skins in order to keep the main folder clean. I did create a skins subfolder, copied/unpacked there all skins found on the official site, and they are recognized without problems. I suspect the same would be the case with plug-ins in case many of them would be installed.
After briefly reviewing all the installed skins I settled for Euphoria, at least for now. The only thing bothering me is that playlist cannot be resized, at least not with this particular skin.
The extended playlist shows the encoding types of the files and radio stations, and intelligently strikes with a red line those that cannot be played due to missing plug-in or other reason(s). The encoding type can also be displayed by the default playlist; just right-click the playlist and choose Display columns > Type.

Hopefully you're not mistaking SSE2 for SSL2. SSE/2/3 are CPU instruction sets that depend on the CPU hardware generation. The compiler used to build the application can be instructed to use one, the other or none of those sets at build time, thus resulting (in)compatibility with certain CPU generations, such as first AMD Duron generation that does not have any SSE whatsoever. The IA-32 builds of Pale Moon by Mercury were built at my request and tested them on an old machine running XP-SP3 on such Duron CPU. Whether those builds can use SSL2/3 or TLS1/2 - that I don't know.

Now, newest changes in code as well as the maintainer's upgrade of the OS and building environment led to the application losing even XP compatibility. Given time it's most likely it will lose Win7 compatibility too, then Win8.x and so on. If it will still exist by then.

There is a theoretical possibility that someone else takes the code, replaces newer APIs with those existent in Win98, changes building settings to match latest IDE that can produce Win9x-compatible executables and libraries, and builds a perfectly Win9x-compatible Pale Moon. I say theoretical possibility because that would be a huge, close to impossible endeavour given all the changes that would be required. On top of that, performing same changes additionally to tracking and adapting each new changes or additions with each minor/major version would be exhausting and time-consuming even for someone with no other responsibilities whatsoever. Even restoring XP compatibility would be a hard task, otherwise someone might've taken on it by now, I guess.

Unfortunately the above is valid for much/most of the current software, although exceptions such as XMPlay show that when there's a will there's a way. And since this defective world runs almost exclusively on money and not on good will, we will never see the real freedom of using whatever hardware and software we want/like/own/afford while having them all indiscriminately compatible with the services they'd have to operate with.
I wonder, if - or when - machines will have taken over the Earth, would they immediately end this hardware & software discrimination, or would they behave exactly like us humans have done with each-other since forever...? Food for thought.

@roytam1 does weekly builds of Basilisk /Pale Moon that are compatible with processors lacking the SSE2 instruction, that run just fine on Windows XP. 

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1 hour ago, sparty411 said:

@roytam1 does weekly builds of Basilisk /Pale Moon that are compatible with processors lacking the SSE2 instruction, that run just fine on Windows XP. 

I stand corrected, my bad for not keeping up to date. Kudos to roytam1 for all the work. So at least XP users have a chance of being closer to current requirements. There are still a lot of things to implement even in official Pale Moon before considering it up to par with the other browsers/engines (try to open rottentomatoes.com in latest available Pale Moon - v28.16.10 as of now - and it will greet you with unsupported-browser?err=custom-elements,shadow-dom).
Additionally, from what I read on the PM forums starting with next version (v29) there will be major changes in handling add-ons, those non-specifically made for PM will be refused from installing/loading. Considering most add-ons are not being maintained anymore in the original form and very few of them have been officially ported to Pale Moon, I am concerned about the future usability of Pale Moon.

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On 12/11/2020 at 9:34 AM, Wunderbar98 said:

Always thought MIDI was under-appreciated. There are still a lot of download sites around.

Agreed. For some weird reason I always ignored everything related to MIDI although didn't even know what it was all about. Only about two years and a half ago out of sheer curiosity I took on improving an AHK script for a virtual piano keyboard that was working with MIDI. And I was stunned by what MIDI can actually do.
Digging for that script now and testing it I sadly discovered that Wine doesn't do MIDI currently on this notebook, and Mint itself is not configured to play MIDI. Will have to dig around and try to fix things. Unfortunately, my mod of the original script aims to be compatible with most keyboard layouts so there may be Unicode problems if attempted to run under Win9x.
If you wanna play with the script you can check out this topic in AHK forums, latest available version being attached here (v1.3.3).
There's also a debug package below (v1.3.3.1).

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Thank-you for responses. Pale Moon wouldn't be trivial to build on an 800 MHz machine. Just personal preference, i wouldn't use the browser for banking, will continue to use an SSE2+ system for this. Interesting what AutoHotkey can do. My perfectly functional Yamaha PortaSound (circa 1980s) gets dragged out occasionally for playtime, personal preference is to keep it real. Eventually i may find other uses for AutoHotkey, for now happy with improved keyboard controls.

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Tiny Personal Firewall was briefly mentioned by myself back on page 2 of this thread. A mistake was made, my systems use v2.0.14 not v2.0.15. Can't remember exactly but this was contentious to someone, apparently there was a significant (negative) change after v2.0.14.

After running it for years it's been good, minimal system resources, sits in the system tray, easy to configure. This system is online everyday. In GNU/Linux i tend to use basic iptables firewall and just set it and forget. Tiny Personal Firewall is good at notifying about connection attempts without rules, both in and out. It's easy to temporarily disable all network activity and specify software access rules.

The only concern is that firewall logging appears broken, not trivial. No 'filter.log' file ever appears to get created or appended. If anyone has tips, appreciated.

Users may use some applications listed below to access online data though some entries are surprising. All of these applications requested and were denied network access. Didn't bother tracing or researching any of them, they've been blocked forever and the system runs great. Not even sure what some of them reference, example SYSTEM or Windows Kernel core component. They do not appear related to running 'ping' or any TCP/IP networking used here.

SYSTEM (in/out)
Windows Kernel core component (in/out)
ICMP (in/out)
IP Protocol 2 (in)
Microsoft HTML Help Executable (out)
Java 2 Platform Standard Edition binary (out)
OpenOffice.org 2.4 (out)

From what i can tell running anti-virus is pretty much obsolete, keeps the system lean. I think most important is running both a hardware and software firewall, avoiding JavaScript and other unauthorized code execution, regularly clear cookies and cache, careful about software installs and exercise common sense.

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There's a current Microsoft anti-competitive class action lawsuit in my country going way back to 1998. At this stage of life it's not worth giving up personal contact information for a few dollars. Nonetheless lots of people must have been riled, admitedly i was too.
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/canada-class-action-settlement-microsoft-1.5840305

Microsoft got a fair amount of my money back in 1999 when i built my first 'modern' PC. As i built the PC myself, the Windows 98 SE operating system was purchased standalone for about $100 CDN. To me this seemed reasonable as a basic new desktop cost $1000-$1500 for the hardware, especially if you wanted some RAM :)

For me the issue was Microsoft Works and Microsoft Works Suite. In all fairness this is just as much my ignorance, with the 'help' of a know-it-all big box salesperson. So my fancy new PC needed Word, that's what everyone used, standard stuff. The salesperson convinced me that i had to purchase both 'Microsoft Works' and 'Works Suite 99'. I was told that to get Microsoft Word, first install Microsoft Works then install Microsoft Works Suite 99. Those were my busiest years, didn't have time to doublecheck and argue. Funny how Microsoft entangled an OS with a built-in browser but couldn't provide a full featured word processor.

Combined these 'Works' purchases cost far more than the actual Windows 98 operating system and all i really used out of the collection was Word (briefly). Since i paid so much money for this stuff it was never thrown away and is still in pristine condition. Probably the last time i paid for software, aside from games.

Can't be bothered to load the CDs, the 'Microsoft Works' stamp indicates:
- Microsoft Works 4.5a
- Microsoft Works Calendar
- Internet Explorer 4

Microsoft Works Suite 99 includes:
- Microsoft Word 97
- Microsoft Works 4.5a [1]
- Microsoft Works Calendar [1]
- Internet Explorer 4 [1]
- Microsoft Money 99
- Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99
- Microsoft Graphics Studio Greetings 99 [2]

[1] See basic Microsoft Works list and insert red angry face here.
[2] Better half still actually uses this on occasion.

Of my other Windows operating systems, Windows 95 was purchased used from a nice fellow in about 1999, retro you know, for $5 CDN. Fortunately i was gifted Windows 2000 Professional and Windows XP Professional.

Of course now so much free, open source software is available, which to me is just as good or better. Back then GNU/Linux didn't exist to me, not until 2006. A freshly built PC with a Windows OS was just how it was done. Back then i also did not yet know about Star Office or any of the great office suites to come.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Merry Christmas everyone, hope you all stay healthy and have a good new year. Time for eggnog and Grumpy Old Men with my better half.

Read an informative article entitled 'How to make technology greener? End planned obsolescence'. Here in the great white north it was +7 Celsius on Christmas Eve. This is so wrong, not just a rare blip. Last week it felt like the roof may blow off, had to check for missing shingles. Unfortunately most in my community seem to take it in stride, thinking a warm winter is more pleasant, even a longer growing season. Hopefully an enlightenment switch will eventually flick on, sadly maybe too late.
https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/planned-obsolescence-1.5847168

Just refurbished my Windows 98 hardware. The power supply and components were dirtier than my other systems, gets quite a bit of daily use. Recently encountered input output errors with a USB stick. The stick and filesystems are good.

Thinking this may be a connection issue, the computer was unplugged. A cotton tip was dipped in isopropyl alcohol then 'flattened' with pliers to fit inside the computer's USB slots. A repeated poking action was used to clean the ports. The tip came back dirty so the cleaning action was repeated. Maybe shouldn't be surprised, 20 year old hardware. Hopefully this fixes the connectivity issue, time will tell.

Cotton tips with cardboard or wood sticks work best, plastic sticks do not grip the cotton well. The cotton tip flattening technique is good for other fixes too. I once had an extension cord that would spark/arc whenever plugging something in. Cleaned the plug slots, like new again. Survival tip: unplug before maintenance.

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  • Wunderbar98 changed the title to Running vanilla Windows 98 in 2020 and beyond...

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