Hopefully you’ll never have to use this Microsoft Teams update

Highlighting emergency calls through Microsoft Teams should soon be a lot easier thanks to a new update coming to the service.

The video conferencing platform will soon allow admins to create customizable banners within Microsoft Teams that will alert users when an emergency call is coming through.

This should help such calls stand out immediately to users, particularly if their attention is divided between a number of other tasks.

Microsoft Teams emergency

In its official entry on the Microsoft 365 roadmap, the company notes that users will be able to acknowledge their admin's message by clicking on the banner within a Microsoft Teams call.

This will allow admins to phrase or word the alerts however they need to, which could be extremely handy for schools or industrial customers, who might have entirely different emergency categorizations.

The feature is still in development for now, but Microsoft has set an expected release date of April 2022, meaning it could arrive soon.

Upon launch, the feature will be available for Microsoft Teams users across the world on desktop and Mac platforms.

The news is one of a long series of improvements and upgrades made to Microsoft Teams in recent months as the company looks to ensure hybrid and remote workers are still able to get the most out of its collaboration tool.

Perhaps most usefully, Microsoft recently revealed that Teams users will soon be able to mute notifications whilst they are in a video conferencing meeting or don't want to be disturbed.

On a similar note, another upgrade concerns the addition of chat bubbles so that users wouldn't miss private messages sent during a video call, both 1:1 or as part of a group call.

Recent figures from the company suggest that Microsoft Teams now boasts over 270 million monthly active users (MAUs), as the hybrid working age continues to drive the platform from strength to strength.

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Holopresence means never having to say, ‘Sorry, I can’t be there’

In Holopresence land you can be two places at once. One is sitting on a director’s chair in front of a green screen, sweating under a half dozen stage lights. The other is half a world away on a semi-translucent screen, addressing an audience who almost believes you’re sitting right there with them.

I walked across midtown Manhattan in the soaking rain to see ARHT Media’s Holopresence experience in person earlier this week. (And with water dripping off my hat and coat, I found myself wishing I’d done this meeting as a hologram.)

To be clear, what ARHT provides is not, technically, a hologram. It’s a canny projection system that employs mostly off-the-shelf technology, a proprietary screen, and special software to make people believe someone is sitting in front of you, as opposed to – in my case – Toronto.

He was never really there

ARHT Media is a Toronto, Canada, telepresence company that just opened its first Holopresence studio in a WeWork building in midtown Manhattan. They invited me for a look.

As I walked into the WeWork space, basically a vast, mostly unfurnished office floor, I was greeted by ARHT Media SVP Terry Davis and company CEO Larry O’Reilly, who was standing off to the side looking at his phone. O’Reilly looked a little odd, as though he was standing before a bright light that I couldn’t see. Suddenly he abruptly dematerialized and was gone — my first experience with this Holopresence technology.

I wanted to try this for myself, but before anyone could transform me into a Holopresence, Davis walked me through the technology's fundamentals.

“We’re a projection system,” Davis told me. Gesturing toward the cube-like set up in a semi-darkened space on the far side of a cavernous WeWork room, where O’Reilly had “stood” just moments ago, Davis explained that the entire system is portable and “breaks down into a couple of duffle bags. We go anywhere in the world.”

The cube that “virtual you” beam in and out from consists of poles, black curtains on the back and sides, and a special screen stretched across the front. Unlike a standard movie screen, this one is a nylon-like mesh with a high-gain reflective coating. “It’s transparent and reflective at the same time,” explained Davis.

Aside from ARHT’s matrixed software (handling multi-channel communication for various holopresences in real-time), the screen is the company’s only other piece of proprietary technology. Still, it is effective.

Behind the screen, I note a few props, including a pair of plants and some floor lighting. These and the distance to the back curtain create the illusion of a depth of field behind a Holopresence. “You have to have a certain degree of depth of field in order for your brain and eyes to perceive that parallax,” said Davis.

A world of Holograms

AHRT is by no means the only company creating virtual people for events, concerts, panels, exhibits, and families. There’s Epic HoloPortl, for example. It has white, booth-like boxes, called PORTLs, in which people appear to materialize. The effect is arresting. Davis, while not wanting to criticize Epic HoloPortls, called them “white coffins with no depth of field.”

He also noted that his product can accommodate multiple people from multiple locations on one screen, while PORTL fits one in a box.

Plus there’s the portability factor. A Holopresence system, which would include the screen, curtain, poles, an off-the-shelf projector (they were using a Panasonic DLP for my demonstration), and microphones and speakers, can fit in a large bag. It’s not clear how portable the PORTL boxes are.

Still, on the other side of a Holopresence presentation is someone sitting in front of a green, black, or white screen. They’re mic-ed-up, facing a camera, and, in my case, hunkered down under substantial lighting. Meaning that for a live Holopresence event, there are always two sides to the technology equation.

Davis told me that the technology they use to create these hologram-like presences is not much different than what we’ve seen with virtual Michael Jackson in Concert or Tupac Shakur at Coachella. In those instances, the projection was from the ground up to a reflective surface that bounces it off a giant screen. Holopresence’s projector is outside the curtained area, facing the screen.

Lance Ulanoff and ARHT CEO Larry O'Reilly

Lance Ulanoff and ARHT CEO Larry O’Reilly (beaming in) (Image credit: Future)

Most of ARHT Media’s clients are businesses, enterprises, and billionaires (there was an Antarctic yacht cruise where people like Malcolm Gladwell beamed in to talk to a select audience). Davis described multiple panels where they beamed people in from around the world. Back at each of their studios, panelists are surrounded by screens that stand in place of other panelists. If someone is seated to the left of you, that’s where the screen will be. They even try to accommodate height differences. If the speaker on the left is much short than you or, say, on a different level on the stage, they adjust the screen height accordingly. A feed of the audience is usually placed in front of the speaker. What they see is holo-panelists looking back and forth at other holo-panelists.

To accommodate large panels or events with large audiences, ARHT offers a range of screen sizes that can be as small as 5 feet and as large as, well, a stage.

ARHT does have some consumer impact. During COVID travel restrictions, the company helped a bridesmaid in England virtually attend a wedding in America. In New Jersey’s Hall of Fame, the company has built a kiosk where visitors can “speak” to life-sized video versions of Bon Jovi and Little Steven.

Still, ARHT is not priced for your average consumer. A single-person Holopresence can run you $ 15,000. For more people on the screen, it could cost as much as $ 30,000.

Beaming in

Lance Ulanoff in ARHT studio becoming a Holopresence

Lance Ulanoff in ARHT studio becoming a Holopresence (Image credit: Future)

After a power outage at the Toronto headquarters (no amount of tech magic can overcome a lack of electricity), we finally got ARHT’s CEO back for a quick virtual chat. The roughly 6ft tall O’Reilly looked solid. As we talked and he reiterated many of the points Davis and I covered, I found myself focusing on the image quality. Dead-on, it was perfect. From O’Reilly’s white hair down to his shoes, he appeared to be standing before me (on a slightly raised stage). I shifted to the left and right and found the effect holding up pretty well. Davis claims the projection doesn’t flatten out until you hit between 120 -to-140-degree off-axis. I’d argue the viewport is a bit narrower.

As we conversed, though, I experience another key part of ARHT’s Holopresence secret sauce: latency. The conversation between the two of us was free-flowing. Even when we did a counting test (we counted to ten with each of us alternating numbers), there was, perhaps, a sub-second delay.

To achieve this effect, ARHT uses low packet bursting transmission to create a smooth, conversational experience between people in Hong Kong and Australia or a reporter in New York City and a CEO in Toronto.

Lance Ulanoff materializes

(Image credit: Future)

One thing I noted throughout the demo were the references to Star Trek transporter technology. There was even a screen in the space showing a loop from the original Star Trek series where the team beams down to an alien planet. When you start a Holopresence experience, people “beam in” with a very Star Trek-like graphic flourish and sound effect. I asked O’Reilly if he's a Star Trek fan and what he thought about the connection. He didn’t answer directly and instead pointed out how the sound and graphics are completely customizable.

Finally, it was my turn. I sat in the green screen space and tried to look like I wasn’t about to experience a lifetime dream of mine. My beam-in moment was, initially, a little underwhelming. I couldn’t see myself; the Holopresence space was across the room. 

When it was over, I walked over, and Davis replayed my big moment. Seeing myself teleport into the room like a bald Captain Kirk was everything I hoped it would be.

Beam me up, Scotty.

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Holopresence means never having to say, ‘Sorry, I can’t be there’

In Holopresence land you can be two places at once. One is sitting on a director’s chair in front of a green screen, sweating under a half dozen stage lights. The other is half a world away on a semi-translucent screen, addressing an audience who almost believes you’re sitting right there with them.

I walked across midtown Manhattan in the soaking rain to see ARHT Media’s Holopresence experience in person earlier this week. (And with water dripping off my hat and coat, I found myself wishing I’d done this meeting as a hologram.)

To be clear, what ARHT provides is not, technically, a hologram. It’s a canny projection system that employs mostly off-the-shelf technology, a proprietary screen, and special software to make people believe someone is sitting in front of you, as opposed to – in my case – Toronto.

He was never really there

ARHT Media is a Toronto, Canada, telepresence company that just opened its first Holopresence studio in a WeWork building in midtown Manhattan. They invited me for a look.

As I walked into the WeWork space, basically a vast, mostly unfurnished office floor, I was greeted by ARHT Media SVP Terry Davis and company CEO Larry O’Reilly, who was standing off to the side looking at his phone. O’Reilly looked a little odd, as though he was standing before a bright light that I couldn’t see. Suddenly he abruptly dematerialized and was gone — my first experience with this Holopresence technology.

I wanted to try this for myself, but before anyone could transform me into a Holopresence, Davis walked me through the technology's fundamentals.

“We’re a projection system,” Davis told me. Gesturing toward the cube-like set up in a semi-darkened space on the far side of a cavernous WeWork room, where O’Reilly had “stood” just moments ago, Davis explained that the entire system is portable and “breaks down into a couple of duffle bags. We go anywhere in the world.”

The cube that “virtual you” beam in and out from consists of poles, black curtains on the back and sides, and a special screen stretched across the front. Unlike a standard movie screen, this one is a nylon-like mesh with a high-gain reflective coating. “It’s transparent and reflective at the same time,” explained Davis.

Aside from ARHT’s matrixed software (handling multi-channel communication for various holopresences in real-time), the screen is the company’s only other piece of proprietary technology. Still, it is effective.

Behind the screen, I note a few props, including a pair of plants and some floor lighting. These and the distance to the back curtain create the illusion of a depth of field behind a Holopresence. “You have to have a certain degree of depth of field in order for your brain and eyes to perceive that parallax,” said Davis.

A world of Holograms

AHRT is by no means the only company creating virtual people for events, concerts, panels, exhibits, and families. There’s Epic HoloPortl, for example. It has white, booth-like boxes, called PORTLs, in which people appear to materialize. The effect is arresting. Davis, while not wanting to criticize Epic HoloPortls, called them “white coffins with no depth of field.”

He also noted that his product can accommodate multiple people from multiple locations on one screen, while PORTL fits one in a box.

Plus there’s the portability factor. A Holopresence system, which would include the screen, curtain, poles, an off-the-shelf projector (they were using a Panasonic DLP for my demonstration), and microphones and speakers, can fit in a large bag. It’s not clear how portable the PORTL boxes are.

Still, on the other side of a Holopresence presentation is someone sitting in front of a green, black, or white screen. They’re mic-ed-up, facing a camera, and, in my case, hunkered down under substantial lighting. Meaning that for a live Holopresence event, there are always two sides to the technology equation.

Davis told me that the technology they use to create these hologram-like presences is not much different than what we’ve seen with virtual Michael Jackson in Concert or Tupac Shakur at Coachella. In those instances, the projection was from the ground up to a reflective surface that bounces it off a giant screen. Holopresence’s projector is outside the curtained area, facing the screen.

Lance Ulanoff and ARHT CEO Larry O'Reilly

Lance Ulanoff and ARHT CEO Larry O’Reilly (beaming in) (Image credit: Future)

Most of ARHT Media’s clients are businesses, enterprises, and billionaires (there was an Antarctic yacht cruise where people like Malcolm Gladwell beamed in to talk to a select audience). Davis described multiple panels where they beamed people in from around the world. Back at each of their studios, panelists are surrounded by screens that stand in place of other panelists. If someone is seated to the left of you, that’s where the screen will be. They even try to accommodate height differences. If the speaker on the left is much short than you or, say, on a different level on the stage, they adjust the screen height accordingly. A feed of the audience is usually placed in front of the speaker. What they see is holo-panelists looking back and forth at other holo-panelists.

To accommodate large panels or events with large audiences, ARHT offers a range of screen sizes that can be as small as 5 feet and as large as, well, a stage.

ARHT does have some consumer impact. During COVID travel restrictions, the company helped a bridesmaid in England virtually attend a wedding in America. In New Jersey’s Hall of Fame, the company has built a kiosk where visitors can “speak” to life-sized video versions of Bon Jovi and Little Steven.

Still, ARHT is not priced for your average consumer. A single-person Holopresence can run you $ 15,000. For more people on the screen, it could cost as much as $ 30,000.

Beaming in

Lance Ulanoff in ARHT studio becoming a Holopresence

Lance Ulanoff in ARHT studio becoming a Holopresence (Image credit: Future)

After a power outage at the Toronto headquarters (no amount of tech magic can overcome a lack of electricity), we finally got ARHT’s CEO back for a quick virtual chat. The roughly 6ft tall O’Reilly looked solid. As we talked and he reiterated many of the points Davis and I covered, I found myself focusing on the image quality. Dead-on, it was perfect. From O’Reilly’s white hair down to his shoes, he appeared to be standing before me (on a slightly raised stage). I shifted to the left and right and found the effect holding up pretty well. Davis claims the projection doesn’t flatten out until you hit between 120 -to-140-degree off-axis. I’d argue the viewport is a bit narrower.

As we conversed, though, I experience another key part of ARHT’s Holopresence secret sauce: latency. The conversation between the two of us was free-flowing. Even when we did a counting test (we counted to ten with each of us alternating numbers), there was, perhaps, a sub-second delay.

To achieve this effect, ARHT uses low packet bursting transmission to create a smooth, conversational experience between people in Hong Kong and Australia or a reporter in New York City and a CEO in Toronto.

Lance Ulanoff materializes

(Image credit: Future)

One thing I noted throughout the demo were the references to Star Trek transporter technology. There was even a screen in the space showing a loop from the original Star Trek series where the team beams down to an alien planet. When you start a Holopresence experience, people “beam in” with a very Star Trek-like graphic flourish and sound effect. I asked O’Reilly if he's a Star Trek fan and what he thought about the connection. He didn’t answer directly and instead pointed out how the sound and graphics are completely customizable.

Finally, it was my turn. I sat in the green screen space and tried to look like I wasn’t about to experience a lifetime dream of mine. My beam-in moment was, initially, a little underwhelming. I couldn’t see myself; the Holopresence space was across the room. 

When it was over, I walked over, and Davis replayed my big moment. Seeing myself teleport into the room like a bald Captain Kirk was everything I hoped it would be.

Beam me up, Scotty.

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This Microsoft Teams rival you’ve never heard of is ready for expansion

Alibaba has announced some new features for DingTalk, an enterprise-focused alternative to Microsoft Teams that has over 500 million users. 

DingTalk is part of Alibaba Cloud, one of the world's leading cloud providers by market share, and the service combines messaging, task management, audio and video conferencing, live-streaming, real-time translation and more. 

According to The Register, the service is currently available to Chinese SMBs for no cost, and an English language version is also available Malaysia. But now, Alibaba is looking to attract a wider selection of customers, with new avenues for extensibility and additional subscription plans.

The company says the free basic version will remain available as before, alongside three paid tiers with extra features, and a new commission model will be added for software and hardware vendors.

The race for corporate messaging 

Corporate messaging apps have taken off during the pandemic, as almost all businesses moved to an online model for working.

Zoom was the early winner, offering best-in-class video tools, but Microsoft was quick to expand and upgrade Teams, its all-in-one offering, and the company's pre-existing relationship with enterprises was a huge bonus. 

On top of that, a host of other services, such as Slack, have catered to remote needs. 

Given the Chinese internet is distinct from the Western internet, it makes sense that Alibaba – one of its largest companies, alongside Tencent – offers the same services for a domestic audience. 

Alibaba says over 19 million organizations use DingTalk already, a formidable number, and one-third of customers have over 2,000 employees. Around 1.9 million developers offer over 2.4 million add-on features.

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This browser you’ve never heard of is now worth a billion dollars

A startup offering an enterprise-focused web browser has surpassed a billion-dollar valuation, despite launching only a matter of weeks ago.

Island exited stealth mode in early February, but has already achieved unicorn status courtesy of a $ 115 million Series B funding round that valued the company at $ 1.3 billion. Although the product was under development for two years prior to launch, Island is still among the fastest startups to achieve the milestone.

The funding round was led by venture capital firm Insight Partners, which has previously invested in the likes of Shopify, Qualtrics and DocuSign, all of which have multi-billion-dollar market capitalizations. Other investors include Sequoia Capital, Stripes and Cyberstarts.

Island browser

The core difference between Island’s browser and the likes of Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge is a heightened focus on cybersecurity. According to Island, typical browsers are entirely unsuitable for use in a business context, despite their ubiquity in the professional sphere today.

“The most widely deployed app in the enterprise is the browser, but it’s a consumer-based design,” Island CEO Mike Fey told TechCrunch, when the company emerged from stealth.

“A consumer wants to have infinite freedom; they want to be able to install anything they want, go anywhere they want, and do who knows what with their browser without any issues. The enterprise, however, wants to make sure that their customer data is safe, that their critical information is protected, and that they’re getting a good experience.”

Although Island’s service is built on the same Chromium engine as many popular browsers, and therefore has a familiar interface, it places a number of restrictions on the way in which end users can interact with the web.

For example, the Island browser gives security teams control over simple functionality such as copy-and-paste, screen capture and content downloads. It also places limits on the kinds of extensions that can be installed and the domains that can be visited.

Separately, the service gives IT administrators access to advanced tools to help secure SaaS applications and prevent data leakage, as well as full insight into all deployments to help identify the source of incidents as quickly as possible.

“Island has created a whole new way of thinking about enterprise work. By fundamentally transforming the work environment to be secure-by-design, the Island Enterprise Browser enables organizations to achieve entirely new levels of security, productivity, and IT efficiency,” added Fey.

“New investment from Insight Partners and increased investment from our original funding partners validates our product-market fit, accelerates our momentum, and highlights the huge opportunity in front of us.”

  • Also check out our list of the best VPN services around

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This browser you’ve never heard of is now worth a billion dollars

A startup offering an enterprise-focused web browser has surpassed a billion-dollar valuation, despite launching only a matter of weeks ago.

Island exited stealth mode in early February, but has already achieved unicorn status courtesy of a $ 115 million Series B funding round that valued the company at $ 1.3 billion. Although the product was under development for two years prior to launch, Island is still among the fastest startups to achieve the milestone.

The funding round was led by venture capital firm Insight Partners, which has previously invested in the likes of Shopify, Qualtrics and DocuSign, all of which have multi-billion-dollar market capitalizations. Other investors include Sequoia Capital, Stripes and Cyberstarts.

Island browser

The core difference between Island’s browser and the likes of Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge is a heightened focus on cybersecurity. According to Island, typical browsers are entirely unsuitable for use in a business context, despite their ubiquity in the professional sphere today.

“The most widely deployed app in the enterprise is the browser, but it’s a consumer-based design,” Island CEO Mike Fey told TechCrunch, when the company emerged from stealth.

“A consumer wants to have infinite freedom; they want to be able to install anything they want, go anywhere they want, and do who knows what with their browser without any issues. The enterprise, however, wants to make sure that their customer data is safe, that their critical information is protected, and that they’re getting a good experience.”

Although Island’s service is built on the same Chromium engine as many popular browsers, and therefore has a familiar interface, it places a number of restrictions on the way in which end users can interact with the web.

For example, the Island browser gives security teams control over simple functionality such as copy-and-paste, screen capture and content downloads. It also places limits on the kinds of extensions that can be installed and the domains that can be visited.

Separately, the service gives IT administrators access to advanced tools to help secure SaaS applications and prevent data leakage, as well as full insight into all deployments to help identify the source of incidents as quickly as possible.

“Island has created a whole new way of thinking about enterprise work. By fundamentally transforming the work environment to be secure-by-design, the Island Enterprise Browser enables organizations to achieve entirely new levels of security, productivity, and IT efficiency,” added Fey.

“New investment from Insight Partners and increased investment from our original funding partners validates our product-market fit, accelerates our momentum, and highlights the huge opportunity in front of us.”

  • Also check out our list of the best VPN services around

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Microsoft Office update will resolve a problem that never should have existed

Microsoft is preparing to roll out an update for its office software suite that resolves a small but frustrating issue.

As explained in the latest addition to the Microsoft 365 product roadmap, the Read Aloud feature for the Office app will soon allow Android users to listen to their documents while their device screen is locked.

The update is currently under development, but should take effect for all Android users by the end of April. TechRadar Pro has asked for clarification as to whether the iOS app will receive a similar fix.

Microsoft Office accessibility

The Read Aloud text-to-speech service for Microsoft Office is useful on a number of levels. Most importantly, it acts as an accessibility feature for those with sight impairments or conditions such as dyslexia. But separately, it can be used to good effect in multitasking scenarios, when someone is on the move or otherwise engaged.

The inability to utilize the Read Aloud feature when the device screen is locked is a needless source of frustration that Microsoft is looking to remedy with the upcoming update. The fix will allow users to pocket their device without having to worry about accidental interactions with the screen, and should have a positive effect on battery life too.

The text-to-speech tweak is the latest in a number of accessibility-focused updates for the Microsoft Office suite, all of which share a common goal: to level the playing field for all users.

Last week, for example, Microsoft published a separate roadmap entry detailing an update for Outlook that will allow users to ensure their email messages live up to accessibility standards.

“We are expanding the functionality [of the MailTips help service] to automatically prompt you when an accessibility violation is detected while composing an email to large audiences or external users, for example, and help you fix the issue,” the company explained.

And in January, Microsoft announced a new add-on for Word, Excel and PowerPoint that lets users notify colleagues of any additional needs they may have. The idea was to create a non-confrontational way for someone to remind co-workers for their accessibility needs that didn’t involve sending a dedicated email or instant message.

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Gmail is getting a new ‘inbox zero’ icon – but you’ll probably never see it

For those of us who really dominate the email game, a new Gmail update has promised a reward in the form of an all-new congratulatory “inbox zero” icon.

The refreshed Gmail graphic, spotted by Android Police, replaces the previous image, which, under the congratulatory message “You've finished! Nothing in Primary”, showed an abstract cartoon of a smiling woman, lying on her front without a care in the (working) world, reading a book in the countryside under a happy sun, suggesting an air of calm and peace for those lucky enough to clear their inboxes.

Clearly, this is not a Covid-friendly view of the new hybrid working world for Google, which has now refreshed the image with something a bit less outside-y.

Gmail inbox zero

(Image credit: Android Police)

As seen above, shown in dark mode on a mobile device, our carefree pal has been replaced with a selection of empty colorful boxes (inboxes?) stacked on each other, topped by a flag not unlike a castle banner (much like that seen at the end of every Super Mario Bros level). 

The congratulatory message still remains, but it's a much colder, more sterile feeling to achieving the goal of clearing all your work tasks for the day.

Gmail inbox zero

Inbox zero may just be a pipe dream for many of us, especially with a work account, but Google clearly sees it as something worth celebrating.

Recent research carried out by TechRadar Pro and OnePulse found that over three-quarters of email users (75.6%) have between one and 10,000 emails in their inbox, followed by 16.75% with between 10,001 and 100,000, with just 7.59% having over 100,001 or more. Over half of users (50.2%) either said they don't know or don't care how full their inbox is. The rest have up to 5GB filled (32.8%) or over 5GB (17%). 

Gmail was found to be the most popular email platform around, a conclusion backed up by recent figures from Google itself, which claimed in January 2022 that Gmail for Android has now surpassed 10 billion installs on the Google Play Store.

Via Android Police

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