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August 22, 2001 - Vol. 1, Issue No. 11
By Scot Finnie
IN THIS ISSUE
If all goes well, I should be able to give you first impressions of the final software in my next issue.
In the meantime, I've been running Windows XP RC2 (Build 2526) for nearly two weeks now, and it's rock solid. The Windows XP betas and especially the release candidate (RC) builds have been extremely stable. RC2, for example, is a better OS than the shipping version of Windows 2000. Microsoft is really getting the hang of this. (Just kidding.)
I could go into a lot more detail about this and that, but I'll just save my breath (and some space in your inbox) until the final code is in hand. Expect more from this newsletter on Windows XP as soon as it goes gold.
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I'm still working on my final recommendation about Netscape 6.1. But here are some of the opinions I've formed so far: It does load noticeably faster than Netscape 6.0, although I would like it to be faster still. In the short time I've had with it, it seems a lot more reliable than Netscape 6.0 was. In particular, Netscape Mail is notably improved in this area.
I am still seeing issues with what I call page fidelity, which boils down to how well Netscape 6.1 displays pages the way Web designers intended them to look. Most websites are designed to be viewed by Internet Explorer 5.x. Netscape 6.1 has the burden of meeting that goal, and it's pretty good, but not as perfect as it should be. Failing that, Netscape 6.1 should at least adhere fully to W3C industry standards. Again, it isn't perfect there either, but as my buddy John Woram writes in his newsletter, Netscape 6.1's Cascading Style Sheet Level 2 support is second to none.
So what about IE 6.0? In case you're interested, I ran the version of IE 6.0 that comes with Windows XP RC2 (6.00.2526.0000) through all five of John Woram's CSS2 tests. The result? In one way or another, IE 6.0 failed four out of five of them. So it appears that Microsoft hasn't improved CSS2 support.
My general impression is that Netscape 6.1 is far less quirky than its immediate predecessor. But hasn't eradicated those traits entirely. For example, here's a simple bug I ran across personally. Open any Web page and reduce the font size to 90 percent. Next, click any link on that page. Then hit the back button. When you back up to the first page, it'll be rendered in the previous font size (100 percent is the default), not the 90-percent size you set.
A handful of SFNL readers have written describing far worse problems. But to be frank, I'm not getting enough feedback about Netscape 6.1 to be able to generalize. If you've tried Netscape 6.1, I'd appreciate a description of your experiences.
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Symantec Norton SystemWorks 2002
Symantec is in late beta development of Norton SystemWorks 2002, which among other things runs on Windows XP. I'm running it now over Windows XP RC2 with NTFS drives, and it seems very good. Symantec's tagline for the new Norton AntiVirus 2002 is that it "maximizes protection [and] minimizes interruptions." I hope it lives up to that billing because that's just what I want from an antivirus utility. One of the things Symantec has done is make the virus updating process more automatic. That's a very good thing.
I'll definitely be covering this product after it ships right here in the newsletter. One thing I can tell you that's improved is the setup process. But I have to test that more before I pass along any hardened insights. One surprise for me is that it continues to contain CleanSweep, a module that they had talked about axing. The package also includes GoBack 3 by Roxio. And best of all, Symantec is claiming reduced system overhead. We'll see. But it all sounds good.
ZoneAlarm Version 2.6.231
About three weeks ago Zone Labs released an update to ZoneAlarm 2.6 (both Pro and standard) whose focus was revisions for performance and reliability. I've been running the Pro version since August 4, and I've had no problems with it. I've also heard of no reports of issues with this update. There were some problems with the original 2.6 release on some users' machines. Hopefully this release cures some of those ills.
Does your company have a new computer product of interest to Scot’s Newletter readers? Submit it to Product Beat.
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When I talked to Pegasus a few weeks ago, they did admit something was going on, but not that there was apparently a huge issue affecting 'most everyone. It's possible, though, that they weren't aware of the scope of a Hughes change that occurred about three weeks back. Bottom line: Hughes had serious trouble balancing bandwidth because of the rapid influx of two-way satellite EarthLink, Pegasus, and DirecPC customers. Hughes's fix for the problem decreased everyone's signal strength. My service was out for almost two weeks before it miraculously fixed itself. I now average signal strength measured around 40 (although I've seen it as low as 30). Prior to the Hughes fix, I averaged around 70.
Performance has dropped off significantly too. I used to routinely see 500, 600, 700kbps and even more. Tests I ran with two different performance-measuring sites turned up data-transfer rates of only 150kbps. And while straight FTP downloads are about twice as fast as HTTP, it's all still a lot slower than it was four weeks ago. So much slower in fact that, if this continues to be the case, StarBand is looking better and better.
Pegasus Express sent out an email the night before last informing its subscribers that a new version of the software is required to improve their performance. Known as version 36, it replaces version 24 that many others are using. But, unfortunately for me, I've been using 36 since I was first successfully installed over six weeks ago. I will try reinstalling it when it arrives, but I don't hold out much hope for that to improve my performance.
StarBand went through this sort of upheaval too, early this year. And I will continue to test Pegasus Express and give it every chance to succeed. But my patience with and interest in $70 per month two-way satellite systems is beginning to wane. [Editor's note: Yay! So can we send back those annoying dishes now?
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It gets the big things right: Web browsing, hand-writing recognition, numbers and quality of bundled applications, and the ability to play MP3s are just some of the things that make Pocket PC a better handheld. Screen resolution and backlight brightness are also much better on the Pocket PC. There's a trade-off there in that a battery charge lasts nowhere near as long as a set of batteries on the Palm, but I'll take that swap for the improved screen quality.
The one pesky thing about Pocket PC is form factor
None of this is news to anyone who follows the Pocket PC. Most reviewers preferred the iPAQ when Pocket PC first arrived. But Microsoft and Compaq got it right. Add Targus's Stowaway fold-up keyboard is the perfect accessory (and it's available for other Pocket PCs and also Palms). By combining the Stowaway with the Pocket PC (and perhaps an external battery to stretch battery life), the iPAQ is a near perfect handheld for me. I can finally see myself toting it around, writing with it, using it to organize and take notes, and look up phone numbers. I'm still not a big believer in email via handheld (mostly because I don't use Outlook or Web mail). I'm also not real keen on surfing the Web on a 2.25" by 3" screen. But I have desktop and notebook PCs for that stuff.
Of course, there are some negatives about both Pocket PC and the iPAQ. Microsoft's ActiveSync software, which relies in good measure on Outlook 98 or 2000 (the desktop version comes bundled with every Pocket PC), is pretty terrible. It's the Achilles' heel of Pocket PCs. I like the Palm desktop software much better. Pocket PC users, I recommend downloading and installing the latest version of ActiveSync and other general updates:
The iPAQ has a trade-off too. In order to get it as slim and light as it is, Compaq decided to require a $40 add-on sleeve or jacket to facilitate using Compact Flash (CF) devices, such as memory add-ons, software add-ons, and connectivity devices, like modems or Ethernet CF cards. This was a good decision, in my opinion. There are several different jackets offered. But the basic one should be included with all iPAQs in my opinion.
The only other problem I've had with my iPAQ is using the excellent Targus keyboard while the 3650 is plugged in to AC power. The connector where the power line attaches to the bottom of the 3650 has a straight strain-relief wrapping, when what's needed is a hard right-angle molding. So when it's plugged in, the iPAQ keeps trying to stand off the Stowaway's connector.
One last bit of useful Pocket PC info, especially for anyone who's migrating in either direction between a Pocket PC and a Palm device. This set of instructions on Microsoft's PocketPC.com website helped me to transfer all my Palm data over to my Pocket PC.
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With BeOS being siphoned off by Palm in the interim, more than likely for handheld OS purposes only, Linux looks like the only thing around (except, perhaps, for OS X), that could give Windows a run for its money. Speaking of the Mac, by the way, I was contacted by Apple's outside PR firm last week. The contact promised to get me a machine with OS X.1 sometime this fall. So watch for coverage there. Apple's OS X.1 is supposed to be, among other things, faster than OS X.
It's two weeks later, and I haven't had as much time as I would have liked to explore Linux Mandrake. Mostly, I've been working on getting to know how to configure it to my liking more than anything else. In fact, my latest task is to figure out how to adjust the multiboot menu by editing the \etc\lilo.conf file. Mandrake's documentation is useless on a subject like this, and the company's Expert Help system quickly showed up its deficiencies. There is no helpful info on the Mandrake site. They expect you to pose questions. Why not show the answers to other people's questions? No, that would be too easy. And would also prevent the "experts" from getting the revenue stream they so richly desire. Bad plan, MandrakeSoft. Web-based help is an area where I greatly prefer the offerings of competing distros (an annoying Linux slang word meaning "distributions").
I've also spent a lot of time hunting down general Linux resources on the subject of editing the lilo.conf file, specifically for configuring your multiboot environment. I'm sure I missed the one I really need. So, if anyone out there has a reference that'll help me, thanks for passing it along. (If I get hooked on this Linux business, I foresee a special content page on the SFNL website that will link to resources for Windows users who are test driving or converting to Linux. But that's for some other rainy day.)
More interesting than my own endeavors with Linux these last couple of weeks are some of the questions and comments SFNL readers have sent me. The most common feedback I've received is from people who don't realize that most Linux software is mostly free. It's true, Windows applications do not run under Linux. It is a different operating system. But you can download most Linux software for free. Here are some of the rest of nearly 100 emails I received. Many of these may address your questions about Linux.
Four Good Questions
Scot, it looks like you better expand the newsletter to include Mandrake Linux. After I learn the answers to a few questions, I plan to purchase it to use as a dual boot. I have four primary questions.
1. Which device drivers are included or is there a website that lists them?
SF: Most of the Linux distributors provide access to some sort of file or database of supported hardware. Here's the link to Linux Mandrake's supported hardware site.
2. Is there something akin to Internet Connection Sharing under Linux?
SF: I'm not aware of any Linux distribution that contains a built-in service like Microsoft's Internet Connection Sharing. But there are certainly third-party utilities for Linux (similar to WinProxy or WinGate) that serve this purpose. I haven't tried any of these products, and don't know much about them yet either.
3. Would files be sharable with Win9x applications?
SF: I'm not quite sure whether you're talking about network file sharing or file format compatibility. I'm guessing the second thing. Application file formats will differ, just as they do under Windows. So a word processing file created with StarOffice for Linux isn't necessarily shareable with a MS Word user, and vice versa. But there are at least basic converters and file formats that most applications can save to
4. Are there Linux applications that support VBA (Visual Basic for Applications)?
SF: This is an uninformed response (and I welcome correction), but I doubt there are any Linux applications that support VBA, which is a Microsoft development environment.
Liking Linux Mandrake
As a repeat-offender Linux newbie, I found this to be the first install that really went smoothly. I was surfing the 'Net over my Windows P2P LAN immediately! What took forever was figuring out which CD for the install; I never could find any mention in the docs. Finally I just picked the most likely one and it worked. Now, if I can just figure out what to do with the other two.
Based on information I've learned in this newsletter, I believe that I will no longer upgrade my Windows version beyond the 5.5 version that I now use. I do not share Microsoft's opinion about how to implement anti-piracy measures in the product, and unless they change their greedy view on this subject, Linux will be the operating system I use.
I did purchase the latest version of Linux-Mandrake, paying the full price, and expecting to get the advertised support they tout. Support, I did get, help, I did not. I had to give up. They don't provide a toll-free number and my phone bill was getting out of hand.
Each time I called I was talking to a different person who didn't have information about my previous calls, so I had to start from the beginning each time. And in the end, they couldn't help me out of the problems I encountered. Eventually, they escalated the problem, but I never heard back from Mandrake. I performed five separate from-scratch installations of Linux Mandrake, and each led to completely different failures. Finally, I had to give up on Linux Mandrake.
It would have been cheaper for me to download the operating system, free, from the Internet. The resulting setup problems would have been the same, but at least I would be a few dollars ahead of the game.
Response: Sorry you ran into this kind of frustration. I want to stress that Linux is by no means an easy operating system to install and configure properly. Even experts have problems. Most people I talk to are luckier with Mandrake; but there's no guarantee.
Having purchased a copy of Mandrake 7 which worked fairly well, not great, I thought I would try the new version 8. In Mandrake 7 I had a bit of a tough time with my display but I did get it figured out. The problem is that the same computer setup will not run under Mandrake 8. I cannot figure out why an upgrade has now become a downgrade, I have a very common ATI Rage Fury and a less common Philips 105E display. This is a real problem for me and it may also be for other users. So be careful, just because one version will run does not mean they all will.
Response: Linux experts will tell you that upgrading an existing installation of Linux is a much harder proposition than clean installing it. Windows users have been conditioned to expect the opposite. But the truth is that before Windows 95, Windows upgrades were often very dicey propositions too.
Works Almost Perfectly
I've installed Mandrake 8.0 on two machines: an elderly Pentium I at home and a somewhat newer Pentium II Dell machine at Stanford University. I agree almost completely with your comments. Having installed Corel, and TurboLinux in the past, and having failed with RedHat and SuSe, I've found Mandrake to be the best of the bunch. My main problems were hardware related: elderly hardware at home, and some strange built-in features in the Dell machine. My main complaint is the total lack of promised support. The Linux Mandrake PowerPack I purchased promised both telephone and email support. I have been unable to obtain a phone number to call, and after registering and obtaining my ID and then visiting the company's support site [I was nonplussed by the experience.] Incidentally, I was never able to get the promised support from any of the other distributors either. It seems to be a Linux phenomenon.
Response: You can make our experiences identical, because I had the same reaction to Mandrake's online tech support.
Networking Not Working
I just tried Mandrake 8 on a PC with an AMD500 with 128MB RAM. It setup nicely on a spare hard drive, but I haven't been able to get it to network. Supposedly it recognized the NIC during installation, but I can't figure out how to get the network working. It won't link to other machines (but they're not running Linux, so that may be the issue) nor can I get on the Internet via the Linksys router.
Once you get into the GUI with Mandrake, it's just another GUI, loads just as slow as any MS GUI. The real test is whether you have to bust your butt learning a new nomenclature and grope to find workarounds. (That's clearly an advantage for Win9x, since I've set up home networks many times, using the basic MS protocols). I'm sure there are ways to get this thing working and perhaps networking. But Linksys doesn't offer any support for Linux as far as the router is concerned.
Response: So far I've also encountered problems attempting to get conventional networking going under Mandrake
Documentation If You Download Mandrake
Just wanted to let you know I feel the exact same way about Mandrake. I'll be keeping on my machine along with Windows 98, Windows 2000, and BeOS. About the documentation, it is sparse, but there are also some very nice tutorials on the Mandrake site, some of which are duplicated on the Mandrake installation CD. The documentation is also available online.
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1. Start paying $20 a year for my "free" Bigfoot account. Not actually an unreasonable amount to pay. But the only reason I have this account is to serve as a universal email address. It forwards messages to other accounts I use. The only reason I signed up for Bigfoot was that it was free. Now that I've distributed these email addresses, Bigfoot has me over a barrel and wants to charge me for it.
2. In order to get the free Basic Forwarding service, which allows me to forward 25 emails a day, I must fill out a demographic questionnaire about myself and agree to start receiving "marketing messages" (read SPAM). How many of my 25 messages a day will be left over after Bigfoot gets done relaying SPAM to me?
3. If I do nothing, Bigfoot will cancel my account on September 15, 2001.
Here's the message from Bigfoot:
TO INSURE CONTINUED SERVICE FROM BIGFOOT, PLEASE READ THIS EMAIL AND CLICK ON ONE OF THE LINKS BELOW.
Dear [Bigfoot member],
Your Bigfoot service is changing.
In order for us to continue to provide you with the level of service you have come to expect, we are changing your delivery options. Please select one of the following options and click on the corresponding link to update your profile.
*** PREMIUM SERVICE *** With Bigfoot's Premium Service option you will be able to use all of Bigfoot's premium services at any time for a flat rate of $19.95 per year!
With Basic Forwarding, you can keep your Bigfoot address and receive up to 25 emails a day, but we also ask that you fill in your demographic profile so that we may send marketing messages based on your interests. We can no longer continue to forward mail to customers who opt-out of receiving marketing messages.
If we don't hear from you by September 15, 2001, we will consider your account to be inactive and will cease forwarding messages.
Your Friends at Bigfoot
Apparently the "Bigfoot For Life" slogan now means SPAM for life. Just say no thanks to Bigfoot, folks. They made the wrong decision. If you want a free auto-forwarding account, you might check out iname.com, which also offers a choice of domain names.
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For a long time, the reader assumptions I received tended to err on the negative side. But lately, I've gotten a short stack of messages that err on the positive side. In the wake of this newsletter's last issue, where I both decried product activation as a mistake and reviewed an alternative operating system, Linux Mandrake, I received angry responses arguing in favor of product activation, Windows XP, and Microsoft. Two people heatedly wrote to tell me they were unsubscribing from the newsletter. Both said they were sick and tired of the press mindlessly hating Microsoft for everything it does.
Anyone who knows my history would have to find some irony in that. During the early to mid 1990s, I was ardently pro Windows and I waded into the OS/2 forums on CompuServe to do battle with those opposed to Microsoft and Windows. I've also written many times against the DOJ's anti-trust trial against Microsoft. I was managing editor of Winmag.com, where among other things, I was in charge of all Windows coverage.
For a sense of how some of my opposition has viewed me in past, see Xavier Basora's post on osOpinion.com: Scot Finnie: The Blinders Are Partially Off. And this 1999 Cutting Edge column, Is Microsoft Riping Us Off?, that Xavier was responding to in such a beautifully condescending way.
Product Activation Primer
Need to get up to speed on Product Activation? The following links are everything significant I've written on the subject, dating back to February 2001.
Informed Product Activation Opinion
The following is an abridged quote of message sent to me by someone who is professionally involved in the industry (which is why I'm not publishing the name). I thought you'd find it interesting:
I'm advising people who are not in a volume license agreement (the CDs shipped to volume licensees don't have activation) to pick up Win2K and Office2K if they don't have them now, and plan to stick with them for the foreseeable future. They're good, they run on less-demanding hardware, and they're not substantially different from Win XP and Office XP. And you'll probably still be able to install them, pain-free, three years from now.
I would not be surprised to see the major OEMs getting together to set standards for a "standard Linux desktop," offering a hefty prize for the best solution (like $10 million). They could basically steal UI and usability standards from PC GUIs like Windows itself (e.g., a single installation of a font or a printer will be available to all applications) to define the standard. One could argue that they'll never get together on a standard, but in fact they already do gravitate toward the standards that Microsoft dictates. Furthermore, with the right incentive, they would probably get two or three compliant candidates that would allow them some differentiation.
A $10 million prize is roughly what they pay in royalties to Microsoft for half a million PCs, which is roughly one percent of the major OEMs annual output, so you can see that they don't need a huge take rate to get their money back.
There would unquestionably be major headaches associated with starting this up, and those costs (e.g., retraining support desks) could easily run into the billions. But the long-term benefit to OEMs of being able to differentiate their products on top of a free, stable, open-source OS, would be enormous. In fact, I'd be surprised if they weren't talking about this already.
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Note that some Linux applications are designed for specific Linux distributions, so read carefully.
Have you discovered a relatively unknown Windows- or broadband-oriented website that everyone should know about? Please send me the URL, and let me know why you liked it.
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You may recall that I've been helping Microsoft figure out a problem with Word 2002. Following directions from Microsoft, I had to uninstall Office XP and reinstall it from a different CD. That was dandy, but when I was done testing, I reinstalled Office XP with the original CD, thinking I could re-use the confirmation ID. No such luck. It turns out that confirmation IDs are single use only. That's a stated policy. So if I wanted to do the second installation from my original CD, I would have to call up and explain my situation and beg for a new confirmation ID.
A reader wrote me with a possible solution that he read about in this issue of Woody's Office Watch (see #3).
Of course, this tip wouldn't have helped me with a second installation from an Office XP disc. But the instructions provide some valuable insight that SFNL readers should be aware of. In the event that you have to wipe your hard disk or uninstall your copy of Office XP for any reason, you may be able to avoid the product activation rigmarole by saving a specific 5K file on your PC beforehand.
The file is the DATA.DAT file. Under Win9x, you should find it in this folder:
C:\WINDOWS\All Users\Application Data\Microsoft\Office\Data
Under Win2000 and Win XP, you should find it in this folder:
C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Microsoft\Office\Data
Copy the DATA.DAT file off to a safe place (like a floppy disk or CD). After reinstalling Office on the same hardware, recopy the DATA.DAT file back where you found it.
Later on I'll provide similar information about Windows XP.
Basic SirCam Protection
Scot’s Newsletter reader Terry Blount is also a newsletter author. Because lots of newsletter subscribers quite naturally enter the email address of their authors in their address books authors are bombarded more than most people with SirCam messages.
Listen up about this. Just in case you're not aware, the SirCam worm sends messages to people in your address book without your knowing. Even worse, it randomly selects a document file on your computer that it sends out as an attachment with each of the messages it sends. This morning, for example, I had 14 separate SirCam messages with 14 different file attachments from just one SFNL reader in my inbox.
Now I don't look at these files. In fact, I have my antivirus program configured to automatically delete them. But how many other people are reading your personal files
By adding your own email address, you can create an early-warning system that helps you catch on faster when your system has been infected since you should receive a worm-created email message too.
I would add to that something even more important. In this day and age, EVERYONE should have antivirus protection. Your PC should be protected in at least three ways by antivirus software: 1. Automatic background protection; 2. Scheduled (at least weekly) hard drive scans; 3. Automatic email protection.
The companies that make antivirus software have done a great job over the last 18 months improving their products. I recommend one of the following products. Get one. Install it. Figure out how it works. Things are going to get worse before they get better.
Last time around, in the tip about backing up the Win2000/XP Registry, I inadvertently printed a filename as USERCLASS.DAT when it should have been USRCLASS.DAT. Actually, I managed to get both spellings in there. USRCLASS.DAT is correct, and I've updated the SFNL website version of the newsletter to reflect that.
Apparently, I was really in a rush because there was also a typo in the Registry key name where you'll find your hive files listed. The correct location is:
Depending on how you've set up your system, you may need to look at one of these key locations instead:
This information has also been updated on website version of the newsletter.
Do you have a Windows or broadband tip you think SFNL readers will like? Send it along to me, and if I test it and print it in the newsletter, I'll print your name with it.
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I'd like to explain this one more time, because people are still confused. When Winmag.com ceased publication, so did all its newsletters
Even so, many of you have written me to express your feeling that the CMP promotions are unrelated to the content you originally subscribed to. If you feel that way, it's very easy to remove yourself from the old Winmag.com lists. All you have to do is send a blank email to:
This message must be sent from the email account with which you subscribed to the Winmag.com lists. If you used more than one email account, you will have to send to the above address from each of them.
One last point of confusion: Scot’s Newsletter is completely independent of CMP Media. When you unsubscribe from the old Winmag lists, your Scot’s Newsletter subscription is unaffected.
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When you tried to use this unsubscribe form, an error message told you that you'd entered an invalid e-mail address. This problem has been resolved, and the fix has been replicated to all the back issues of Scot’s Newsletter. I'm sorry for any hassle this may have caused.
The Subscription Center's Unsubscribe box has worked properly all along. So have the email address-based unsubscribe links.
For more information on subscribing to or unsubscribing from Scot’s Newsletter, please visit the Scot’s Newsletter Subscription Center.
If you ever have a problem subscribing, unsubscribing, or changing your address, please feel free to email me directly.
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I'm sorry for any confusion that may have caused. I'm working on making this more clear, and also I hope one day to deliver an HTML version of the newsletter.
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