Windows 10 Week: Why Xbox Play Anywhere is important for developers and gamers alike

Windows 10 Week: Why Xbox Play Anywhere is important for developers and gamers alike

Xbox Play Anywhere

At E3 2016, it came as little shock that Microsoft would be introducing, for the first time ever, a cross-buy program between Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. After a year of showing strong support for the Universal Windows Platform, Microsoft's software consolidation push, it was high time for the company to start thinking about gaming on PCs.

With Xbox Play Anywhere, Microsoft is giving PC gaming another shot for the first time since the ill-fated Games for Windows Live. Instead of simply publishing PC games, this new initiative lets you buy a game once and own it on both the Xbox One and PC plus transferring saves, achievements and DLC content between both.

Though some gamers see it as the death of Xbox One exclusives, it seems like an obvious win for others. Knowing it couldn't remain complacent in Sony's backseat, Microsoft had to make like Apple and think different. And it did so while taking into account what was at its disposal all along: Windows.

We Happy Microsoft

Play Anywhere, in Microsoft's director of program management for Xbox Mike Ybarra own words, "is designed to give players the ability to play on Windows 10 PCs or on consoles – for convenience, bigger multiplayer pools and more." More earnestly, this means that if you buy a game digitally on your Xbox, you'll automatically gain access to the same title on your PC, tablet or 2-in-1 – whatever's sporting Windows 10.

Xbox Play Anywhere

For developers it's a little more complicated than that, but surprisingly not by much.

From Microsoft's viewpoint, game creators have little to worry about in regards to its cross-buy initiative. Obviously, games published by the company's own studios will participate in the program by default, but for third-parties, cooperation is entirely optional.

"Xbox Play Anywhere is an opt-in program for developers, meaning there are no requirements of any sort and the decision is up to them," Ybarra told us. "There's minimal added work for developers to make their title an Xbox Play Anywhere title."

Interestingly enough, Compulsion Games' (Contrast, We Happy Few) chief operating Sam Abbott had a similar stance on the matter but added one major detail that contradicts Microsoft's messaging.

Xbox Play Anywhere

Too early to tell

When asked if Play Anywhere is opt-in, Abbott said, "Yeah, I think it is. For us, we kind of take the Valve approach, the idea that games should be playable anywhere. We love to make them available, and UWP is not super difficult to make it happen."

While this aligns almost seamlessly with what Microsoft told us, at the bottom of the Play Anywhere website rests a worrying disclaimer:

"Xbox Play Anywhere functionality will be enabled once the game is released on both Xbox One and in the Windows 10 Store."

That leads us to Sam's biggest qualm with the service. Even with the imminent launch of Microsoft's major Anniversary Update to Windows 10, there's still no sign of early access support. So, for those of us who purchase We Happy Few now on Xbox One as part of the Preview Program, it's unclear whether it'll pop up in our Windows 10 libraries upon the game's hard launch.

"We spoke to Microsoft about early access on the Windows Store, UWP basically," Abbott told us. "And they said, 'Well, we don't really want to support that right now.'"

Xbox Play Anywhere

For that reason, Windows 10 is more of an afterthought for Compulsion rather than a feature at launch, with Sam likening it to platforms with little market reach in gaming.

"What it means is that UWP is going to be something that we look at a little bit later on," he said, "probably around the same time we look at Mac and Linux."

Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to have acknowledged the lack of early access on the Windows Store as a widespread complaint, though in traditional corporate format, they "have nothing new to share around early access programs on the Windows Store at this time."

What's interesting is that Sam, COO of Compulsion Games, doesn't know whether We Happy Few will cost money once it releases on the Windows 10 Store for those buying it now on Xbox One.

If I bought the game today for my Xbox as part of the Xbox One Preview Program, would I be able to boot it up on my PC later this year when it inevitably reaches the Windows 10 Store? We don't know yet, but then again, neither do its creators.

Although porting games over to Windows 10 doesn't necessitate more than a few lines of code, converting it from the age-old Win32 standard to a more closed-off, tile-like Windows 10 app, Microsoft's communication with developers has been unclear.

Xbox One S, Project Scorpio and beyond

Perhaps one of the most shocking happenings at E3 this year was when Microsoft decided to reveal two different consoles less than 90 minutes apart from each other.

The Xbox One S, set to rollout this August, promises a form factor that's 40% smaller than the current Xbox One, 4K HDR video output and, perhaps less commonly known, a Bluetooth controller with native support for Windows 10 PCs. Project Scorpio, on the other hand, is being boasted as "the most powerful console ever built," complete with native 4K and VR gaming capabilities made possible by a whopping six teraflops of graphical performance.

Xbox Play Anywhere

If Xbox One S is the elegant Lunar White controller, Project Scorpio is an exorbitant Elite. Unfortunately, while more power is more than welcome in a world where consoles are rapidly falling behind high-end PCs in terms of graphics, the addition of Xbox One S and Project Scorpio to the Universal Windows Platform only complicates things for developers.

For We Happy Few in particular, Sam Abbott isn't too keen on adding a whole lot of glitz to the upcoming pair of consoles. When asked about Xbox One S, he wasn't sure if optimizing for the shiny white slim was even possible. For Project Scorpio, on the other hand, you can expect little more than a higher resolution.

"I think what we're probably going to end up doing is still design for the baseline model, and with reasonably high-res assets," he surmised. "So our pictures would all be at least 4K and that sort of thing."

"Once we have it optimized and running really well on the base model," he said. "We then spend some time bumping all of the various things that we can."

For the more powerful variants of the Xbox One, Abbot explained they could tweak the lighting significantly and change the post processing effects, but ultimately the biggest change users could expect is an upscaled version of the game's default resolution.

Catching up at a cost

Microsoft, on the other hand, offers a separate, but equally valid point. Developers have been making games for hardware with a wide range of disparate specs for years now on PC. The only difference is that now they'll have to do the same thing for consoles.

"Today, developers already often author their content at 4K resolutions or higher to take advantage of high-performance PCs or consoles and then they scale the content down for mid-range or lower PCs and devices," Ybarra told us.

Xbox Play Anywhere

Although that's not completely accurate, at least according to Sam Abbott, it comes pretty damn close to the truth. Because consoles have been lagging behind in the performance department as of late, it's more probable that developers are "authoring their content" to leverage the mid-range or lower hardware.

"You can design for the people that buy the highest end graphics card, but the market is not that big," he explained. "All of the optimizations that we do for the Xbox One make the game run faster on higher end PC cards; they make the game actually run on lower end PC cards, which is really, really good for everybody."

The thing is, Microsoft made a promise at E3 that even with the launch of new hardware, no one Xbox One owner will be left in the dust amid all the excitement. Instead, it looks as if games will still be authored for the original Xbox One, opting only for higher resolutions on its successor.

The requirement of ensuring that every game runs on every system in accordance with UWP guidelines will not only complicate development but minimize the need to upgrade for gamers who couldn't care less about 4K.

This differs from previous console cycles as the need to latch onto old tech was negated by games pushing the graphical limit on newer hardware to . Then again, this is a four-year console cycle we're talking about and not the eight years we spent with the Xbox 360.

Play Anywhere, but not everywhere

As it stands currently, Play Anywhere is a well intended effort to bring Xbox and PC gamers together. As part of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, you can now see what your friends are playing on PC (regardless of whether it's a UWP game or not) and vice versa.

Of course, in the end, it's important to recognize that playing triple-A games on a PC is simply out of reach or interest for many gamers. It's unlikely that the vast majority will even want to swap between and Xbox One and PC to play their games, but for whatever reason, if they do, Play Anywhere now makes that possible by way of the Universal Windows Platform.

It's important to keep in mind that Microsoft isn't shooting itself in the foot by porting its first-party lineup to PC. The company still takes a 30% cut from Windows 10 app purchases, and it wasn't making much off each console anyway. After all, PC and Xbox target two very different audiences, a fact Microsoft is intently aware of.

Xbox Play Anywhere

"Some will want a high-end gaming PC that allows them to optimize the fidelity of their experience, while others will want the curated benefits of the console enjoyed in front of the largest screen in the home," Ybarra explained.

"Our goal is to bridge these communities in a way that extends and builds on the best of what they do," he said. This is about uniting players not dividing them by the platform they choose to play on."

As a result, Microsoft is effectively paving the way for the Steam Machine Valve never could by making PC gaming more accessible than ever, even if it is through a console.

This article is part of TechRadar's Windows 10 week. Microsoft's latest operating system turns from a free to a paid upgrade on July 29, and we're looking to answer the question of whether it's good for you.

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We Are Anonymous Jigsaw Ransomware Variant Discovered

A new variant of the Jigsaw Ransomware has been discovered by Michael Gillespie that uses a new Anonymous themed background for the ransom note. Though there has been a previous variant of Jigsaw that included a Guy Fawkes mask, this new one implies that Anonymous is involved with the ransomware.  The ransom screen's background now s [...]
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Windows 10 Week: Why Microsoft won’t hit 1 billion Windows 10 installs

Windows 10 Week: Why Microsoft won't hit 1 billion Windows 10 installs

At last year's Build conference, Windows and devices chief Terry Myerson announced one of those "bold ambitions" that Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella is so fond of: "Within two to three years of Windows 10's release, there will be 1 billion devices running Windows 10".

That wouldn't be just upgrades or even new PC sales; it would include Surface Hub, Xbox One, the upcoming HoloLens and Windows Mobile phones.

Surface Hub was delayed for some months. It took longer than expected to ramp up the brand new factory Microsoft was building in Portland, but they're shipping now. Xbox One sales dropped in Microsoft's most recent financial results, but it's already announced the Xbox One S and Project Scorpio.

HoloLens isn't on sale yet, but businesses as well as gamers are interested in the promise of mixed reality. But having taken a long, hard look at the smartphone market and the rise of local phone makers in China and India who are taking share from Apple and Samsung alike, Microsoft seems to have decided not to compete in the budget smartphone market where the bulk of device sales are made.

Typically, it's larger businesses that are adopting Windows 10 faster

Shifting goalposts

Talking to investors when Microsoft announced its most recent financial results, Nadella pointed out that Windows 10 has had the fastest adoption rate of any version of Windows (helped no doubt, by the free upgrade offer), but admitted "given changes to our phone plan, we've changed how we will assess progress". Microsoft will now report not just how many devices have Windows 10 installed, but in active use, and 2018 is no longer the target.

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that to TechRadar. "Windows 10 is off to the hottest start in history with over 350 million monthly active devices, with record customer satisfaction and engagement. We're pleased with our progress to date, but due to the focusing of our phone hardware business, it will take longer than FY18 for us to reach our goal of one billion monthly active devices. In the year ahead, we are excited about usage growth coming from commercial deployments and new devices – and increasing customer delight with Windows."

There's a steady stream of businesses planning to move to Windows 10 in the next year

With no new phones from Microsoft so far this year (and only a few new models from the OEMs Microsoft is now relying on), phone revenue in their latest financial results was down 71%, and sales have dropped 57% from the previous year.

Microsoft seems to be doing better at bringing Office 365 to iOS and Android than on shifting its own mobile devices.

It's not that Microsoft is abandoning phones entirely; Terry Myerson confirmed at Build this year that Microsoft is "fully committed" to phones and plans to "do some cool things with phones" but for 2016, they're important but they're not the focus that PCs and Xbox and HoloLens are, because they're not the right place to reach a lot of customers.

The anniversary update to Windows 10 Mobile certainly improves the platform, but it still has a number of rough edges (the previously impressive shape-writing keyboard and Wi-Fi have both been problematic in recent builds).

What businesses like in Windows 10

Bigger in business

Until those new cool things come along, where Windows Mobile is most likely to prove popular is with large businesses like BT, Telefonica and Delta who want to buy phones that they can run the same apps on that they're building for Windows 10. That's a reasonable market, but it's not the same as the huge consumer market for phones.

IDC analyst and VP Al Gillen agrees that phone sales are an issue. "Without a meaningful contribution from Windows Phone, Microsoft won't get to one billion Windows 10 devices until 2019 or 2020. We project the total to be at about 700 million units by the end of Microsoft's Fiscal Year 2018, when the company had hoped to get to one billion."

But it's not quite such bad news for Microsoft as it might sound. While the shift to smartphones and tablets that we've been seeing for several years continues, PC sales are also higher than was predicted (and sales no longer include PCs that qualify for the Bing promotions Microsoft had been using to reduce Windows licence prices). Fewer PCs are being sold, but the drop is less than IDC expected; between April and June 2016, 62.4 million PCs were sold worldwide.

Why businesses say they don't want Windows 10

That's helped Microsoft's numbers. The recent financial results beat predictions and Windows was partly responsible for that; revenue from consumer versions is up 27% even though PC sales are flat in western Europe and down worldwide.

Microsoft is predicting that it will make as much or more money in the next three months from Windows (or at least from the More Personal Computing division that includes Windows and devices like Surface and phones). The prediction of $8.7 to $9 billion is close to the $8.9 billion it made in April, May and June. And while it's down from the previous year, when revenue was $11.3 billion, the latest results and the predictions for next quarter are only slightly down from $9.2 billion this time last year.

In other words, while phones and tablets have changed the world, PCs don't dominate any more but they aren't going away either. And that means prospects for Windows 10 are still healthy, says Gillen.

"While this has been spun up as a miss by Microsoft, the reality is the movement to Windows 10 is going especially well, and this product is seeing a faster growth rate (in terms of the percentage of market total) than any previous Windows product.

"For instance, if we look back at Windows 7, one year after release, it accounted for 15% of the worldwide, paid Windows installed base. By comparison, one year in for Windows 10 and it is sitting at 24% of the Windows installed base. By the end of this calendar year, Windows 10 should be at about 33% of the worldwide, paid Windows installed base. Windows 7 didn't get to 33% until it had been on the market for over two and a half years."

Laptops and desktops are where Windows 10 is a hit

The recent Spiceworks survey shows that the business adoption is a little better than that, especially in larger businesses; while Microsoft says 96% of its business customers have "active pilots", 38% of organizations in the Spiceworks study are running Windows 10 on PCs and tablets, although only 10% on phones. 42% of those are still testing, but 58% have it in active use. They picked it for the better performance, the new features, because their existing OS was out of support – and because the upgrade was free.

How quickly businesses are planning to move to Windows 10 – or not

That makes 62% of businesses in the survey who aren't running Windows 10; less than half say they won't switch in the foreseeable future, but 11% will upgrade in the next year, 22% in the next two years and 16% after that – which means a steady trickle of business adoption. Laptops and desktops will get the majority of those upgrades; 34% of tablets and 11% of phones in those businesses will have Windows 10 within a year.

So far, Windows 10 growth has actually been slightly better than what Microsoft would need to get to those billion devices by 2018, but that's with the free upgrade offer. Without phones, new consumer PCs and business upgrades will make up the numbers.

It will take a couple more years, and two-in-one tablets will be a much bigger part of Windows 10 family than phones, which means you should expect more features that work with pen – like the new Ink workspace – and connect up a much wider range of phones than just Microsoft's models.

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Windows 10 upgrade: Don’t use Express settings if you value your privacy

When you’re setting up a new or existing PC with Windows 10, Microsoft will offer to install the operating system with "Express settings."

Although Windows 10 Express settings will get you up and running quickly, that convenience comes at a cost: By skipping over custom settings, you’re agreeing to all kinds of data collection and behavior tracking, much of which didn’t apply in earlier versions of Windows.

Here’s our advice: Instead of blindly enabling Express settings in Windows 10, take some time to understand what you’re agreeing to. Click the Customize settings link (in tiny text at the bottom of the setup screen), and disable the options you don't want.

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Mac Week: macOS Sierra vs Windows 10 Anniversary Update: two paths to OS unity

Mac Week: macOS Sierra vs Windows 10 Anniversary Update: two paths to OS unity

macOS Sierra vs Windows 10 Anniversary Update

It's always fun to start a Mac vs PC flame war. But, while supporters of each platform can be a little tribal sometimes, the truth is that today's Macs and PCs have more in common than ever before.

The roads they travel may differ, but the destinations look awfully similar: Intel-powered machines promising improved productivity and offering cloud storage and sync, personal virtual assistants and compatibility with mobile devices.

They're both great operating systems. But are they great at the same things? There's only one way to find out…

Windows 10 Start Menu

macOS Sierra vs Windows 10: the interface

Sierra doesn't come with any big design surprises: it looks almost identical to El Capitan, its predecessor. However, apps can now use tabbed windows like the Finder, and there's a new icon in the Dock and menu bar for Siri. More of her in a minute.

The Windows 10 Anniversary Update, to our eyes, is Windows 8.1 done right: the Start Bar is back and much improved, and the confusing weirdness of Windows 8 is no more. It's a little gaudy for our taste, but the Live Tiles are useful, the Start Menu provides easy access to things you actually want to do and there's a big friendly box for invoking Cortana. More of her in a minute, too.

Windows also has a built-in tablet mode for slates and 2-in-1 devices. Sierra doesn't, as Apple currently gives its mobile devices their own OS in the form of iOS. Touchscreen PCs also benefit from Windows Ink, which can translate on-screen scribbles into notes – albeit not as smoothly as you may have seen in the tech demos.

Mac Autounlock

macOS Sierra vs Windows 10: security, privacy and payments

Both Windows and Sierra offer automatic unlocking. Windows via approved smartphones or Windows Hello, which can identify you via special iris-detecting cameras or fingerprint sensors. Sierra does the same via your Apple Watch, if you have one.

This macOS feature isn't available on older Macs, as they don't have the latest Bluetooth version. Macs also get Apple Pay in their Safari web browser provided they connect to an iPhone, iPad or Watch for Touch ID verification. Apple Pay is rolling out on the web now, as of this writing, albeit slowly.

Windows 10 has attracted criticism for its license agreement, which says it'll disclose personal data, such as email and other private communications, via a "valid legal process" or if "someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property of Microsoft."

You can opt out of that by disabling some features or electing to run Windows without a Microsoft Account, although that does limit the availability and usefulness of Windows's cloud features and Cortana.

Draw

macOS Sierra vs Windows 10: productivity

Apple's macOS and Microsoft's Windows 10 both enable you to use virtual desktops, but Microsoft has also added a four-window snap view that's particularly handy on large monitors. The not-entirely-loved Internet Explorer has been all but dumped in Windows in favor of Edge which, despite being a good browser, it's still playing catch-up.

Safari benefits from a wider range of extensions, largely because Edge didn't support extensions at all until the Anniversary Update. Plus, Safari's ability to pinpoint and silence noisy web pages is a wonderful thing indeed – Edge can detect tabs making noise, but can't mute them.

That said, both operating systems enable you to share functions between your computer and smartphone. For example, Windows 10 can send SMS messages from your PC. MacOS Sierra does more, though.

In Sierra, you can make and receive calls, and the Universal Clipboard allows you to copy and paste files and text between your Mac(s) and iOS device(s). Apple's Handoff, which enables you to pick up on the Mac from the app you were using on iOS, is very clever, too.

iCloud storage

macOS Sierra vs Windows 10: the cloud

One of Sierra's headline features is that it puts your desktop in the cloud, wherein your Mac automatically syncs files and folders on your Desktop and Documents folders automatically, so they're available anywhere. So far, it's been a bit of a disaster.

The way it works is confusing, and people with multiple Macs have been encountering all kinds of issues. That's a shame, because it's a great idea and iCloud syncing of other things – passwords, logins, contacts, photos etc – works well.

It's a shame that it costs so much, too: Apple persists with its policy of offering free iCloud storage per account, not per device. So, if you have eight Macs, three iPhones, four iPads and an Apple Watch on the same iCloud account, you still only get 5GB of space for free. After that, it's $0.99 (or £0.79) per month for 50GB, $2.99 (or £2.49) a month for 200GB and $9.99 (or £6.99) for 1TB.

Not that Microsoft's OneDrive is any better on value. It offers 5GB for free, too, and it's $1.99 (or £1.99) per month for 50GB. Terabyte storage is only available as part of an Office 365 subscription.

By comparison, Google Drive's free tier is 15GB and Amazon offers unlimited cloud storage for $59.99 per year (or around £40).

Deus Ex Mankind Divided

macOS Sierra vs Windows 10: gaming

Mac gaming is much better than it used to be. In addition to more games being ported to the Mac than ever, any modern Mac is capable of running Windows games in Boot Camp. Plus, Apple's Metal API is making developers' lives easier.

But, Windows remains the superior platform here, with much more choice in both hardware and in available games. Windows 10 brought in a new version of the DirectX API for both PCs and the Xbox One, DirectX 12, and Microsoft says that game developers have embraced it more quickly than they did any previous version.

Windows and Xbox are becoming increasingly integrated, too, with universal apps, cross-platform play and cross-platform chat. Where Apple seems a bit puzzled by games, Microsoft takes the gaming community very seriously indeed.

Siri

macOS Sierra vs Windows 10: virtual assistants

Both systems offer personal digital assistants: Cortana in Windows and Siri in macOS. Cortana accepts both vocal and typed queries, while Siri is voice-only.

Siri is a new addition to macOS, as previously it was only available on iOS, but it's as good and as occasionally infuriating as its iOS sibling. Plus, Siri on macOS has for more access to the underlying OS's files, folders and apps than it does on iOS.

Cortana's very good, but Windows doesn't enable you to drag Cortana results into the document you're working on – something that's already proving to be a winning feature for Siri on macOS, too. That said, access to Cortana is more present throughout Windows 10 than Siri is throughout macOS, complete with voice activation, which Siri does not on macOS.

For a detailed breakdown of how the two compare, check out our thorough Siri vs Cortana piece.

Surface Book

macOS Sierra vs Windows 10: the hardware

As ever, macOS Sierra only works (officially) on Macs: specifically 2010 Macs and later, although some 2009 models are covered, too. Of course, that allows macOS to be tailored specifically to its range of Mac devices, making way for features like Handoff, the cloud clipboard and more.

Meanwhile, Windows 10 will run on pretty much anything. The minimum system requirements are identical to Windows 8.1, so that's a 1GHz processor, 2GB of RAM (for 64-bit), 20GB of hard disk space and an 800 x 600 display. It won't run brilliantly on that spec, but it'll run. The point here is versatility.

Windows 10 installation

macOS Sierra vs Windows 10: the price

Windows 10 was available free to users of Windows 7 and 8 for a whole year, but the free period ended in July.

If you haven't already upgraded to or bought a machine running Windows 10 then it's $119.99 (or £99.99) for Windows 10 Home and $199 (or £189.99) for Windows 10 Pro.

Apple, like many times before, has made macOS Sierra is a free upgrade for compatible devices.

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macOS Sierra vs Windows 10: the verdict

The winner depends on who you are, honestly. Are you constantly moving between iPhone, iPad, Watch and Mac? Is your Mac of relatively recent vintage? Then macOS Sierra was made for you: nobody does the gadget family thing quite like Apple, and Sierra's mobile support and user-friendliness are first class. We're not sure we'd trust iCloud with our Desktop just yet, but its irregularities will be solved soon enough.

If you're a gamer or a power user, or just someone who just doesn't think Apple's OS justifies the cost of its hardware, then Windows 10 Anniversary Edition was made for you. It's genuinely the best Windows yet, and what it lacks in beauty and simplicity it more than makes up for in customization and flexibility. It's just a shame that the free upgrade period has ended.

This article has been updated for TechRadar's Mac Week. This year marks not only the 10th anniversary of Apple's unibody MacBook, but the triumphant return of macOS. So, TechRadar looks to celebrate with a week's worth of original features delving back into the Mac's past, predicting the Mac's future and exploring the Mac as it is today.

Gabe Carey originally contributed this article

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WikiLeaks’ methods questioned by whistleblower Edward Snowden

Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, has censured WikiLeaks’ release of information without proper curation.

On Thursday, Snowden, who has embarrassed the U.S. government with revelations of widespread NSA surveillance, said that WikiLeaks was mistaken in not at least modestly curating the information it releases. “Democratizing information has never been more vital, and @Wikileaks has helped. But their hostility to even modest curation is a mistake,” Snowden said in a tweet.

WikiLeaks shot back at Snowden that “opportunism won’t earn you a pardon from Clinton & curation is not censorship of ruling party cash flows.”

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