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Sharing or collaborating with government documents: proposal

Update: The time period for commenting on this proposal has been extended to 17:00 GMT on Friday 28 February.

Citizens, businesses and delivery partners, such as charities and voluntary groups, need to be able to interact with government officials, sharing and editing documents. Officials within government departments also need to work efficiently, sharing and collaborating with documents. Users must not have costs imposed upon them due to the format in which editable government information is shared or requested.

Comments

I fully support this.

Proprietary formats have no place in...

I fully support this.

Proprietary formats have no place in government especially where these documents are to be released to the public.

I fully support that the government should use open document...

I fully support that the government should use open document formats and not a proprietary format provided by an external company.

I have worked in IT for may years and appreciate that an open format means more people can use it without having to use a commercial product to read or edit the document.

As a professional technology consultant to business...

As a professional technology consultant to business Internationally for more than twenty years, and directly involved in various “Open, Internet and International Standards" initiatives for more than ten years, I am acutely interested in technological benefits for the UK government as a British citizen, and in this particular issue concerning adoption consideration of "true" Open Standards of ODF format versus continued use of Microsoft Office products.

It is my clear understanding from participation in various Open Standards organizations' meetings and forums during the period when Microsoft introduced their "open standard" OOXML standard to ECMA International, that their implementation failed compliance testing on several and in final attempts. Further, experts within the Software Freedom Law Center in USA (https://www.softwarefreedom.org), one of the leading global authorities in Software Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks, intimated that the structure of the Microsoft OOXML documented standard left considerable leeway for (Microsoft's) interpretation that would allow the company to decide adherence to any "standards" what-so-ever, other than their own.

This nebulous position of Microsoft, combined with their attitudes and actions toward many large clients and particularly the City of Munich, Germany recently, as one example, where their HP initiated report on adoption of competitive technology, including ODF proved to be factually incorrect and dishonest, pushes me to unabashedly support adoption of the ODF Format standard and application for all UK government document base.

The additional and critical criteria of "flexibility" of ODF in use, transparency and predictability of ODF Office applications development and update, as well as much discussed incredible financial savings should be a wise and forward looking decision for UK and it's people.

Having had large issues collaborating with Government, and EU,...

Having had large issues collaborating with Government, and EU, organizations due to document formats in the past I welcome this standardizaton effort greatly. As a SME, running multiple different operating systems (Linux and MacOS) it is a clear advantage both in cost, time and quality not having to procure specific software from a single vendor in order to share documents with Government. When we collaborate with British organizations and companies, using the open stanard ODF format will be a clear advantage.

I am very please to see these standards being set, it has ben a...

I am very please to see these standards being set, it has ben a long wait.My own business which regularly needs to exchange documents with multiple revision cycles and our transition to ODF has greatly reduced the number of round-trip format errors.
My only suggestion is that there seems to be no mention of a file-compression standard for plain text and more importantly CSV. For example the Land Registry publishes HousePrice data in CSV —excellent— but it would be a great saving on everyone's bandwidth if the data were compressed.

qwp, if they're serving it via HTTP or HTTPS then you should...

qwp, if they're serving it via HTTP or HTTPS then you should be able to check the headers of their web server to see if HTTP/Gz compression is enabled. if it is then the bandwidth saving you mention has already been enacted (by accident): the only other next significant saving would be on internal file storage space on their servers and that's hardly a huge amount.

if on the other hand the exact same file were made available via FTP or by email then you would be absolutely right, and this should be taken into consideration. hmmm... i think you may have a point, therefore....

Great thinking from the Governmnet. I support the proposal that...

Great thinking from the Governmnet. I support the proposal that the Government should produce its documents in a clearly open standard. ODF is the the best and most logical choice especially in these economic times when free software is available for use by Government, companies, students, charities and families. Its adoption should result in further savings in the wider economy. ODF ensures interoperability, and future legibility.
People are now starting to read and edit documents  using a variety of means; phone, tablet, laptop and home computers.  An open format will aid this change in use.
The document format has nothing to do with the tool used to produce it. At one time there were a myriad of office software suites. If an open standard is now used there could be in the future.
I do not except that this will create large costs for users since free software suites are available. If a vendor changes its software interface that may increase costs e.g. Microsoft with its Office interface changes. It is totally wrong to put forward the case that an open format will increase costs in this respect.

In conclusion I fully support the proposal to move to Open formats...

In conclusion I fully support the proposal to move to Open formats and would encourage all vendors of good software to support this movement by implementing fully the ODF specifications.

I think that HTML as the format, and going digital by default...

I think that HTML as the format, and going digital by default is the correct way forward. There will not be many situations where it is sensible to have a non-browser based solution, indeed I hope that there would be no situations where this is the case. If there are any such cases, then the ODF format is the only truly open format which will avoid the vendor lock in which has held us back over the last 20 years.

ODF for me - we've been using it for several years, and had no...

ODF for me - we've been using it for several years, and had no problem.

It cannot be overstated how important it is for Government...

It cannot be overstated how important it is for Government documents to be in an open format that can read, created or edited by different people and groups. Selecting a closed-source format would, as has already been mentioned in previous comments force end users to not only have to pay for a version of Microsoft Office that supports the closed-source format but would also require those users to be running an operating system that Microsoft Office runs on. It would also leave everyone at the mercy of Microsoft who may decide to add additional features to the standard format and support those by default, risking older versions of Microsoft Office to not support those features (or do it poorly) and potentially resulting in incompatabilities (of varying severities) or forcing users to constantly have to pay to upgrade to the newest version of Microsoft Office to obtain what would in effect be bug fixes.

By using a truly open format any products (such as Libre Office or Open Office) will find it easier (or even possible) to fully support that format. No-one can make the argument that Microsoft Office is easier to use for people because Microsoft keep changing the user interface (most recently used menu items moving towards the top, the "Ribbon" interface, etc).

It is also likely that add-ons or standalone scripts/applications will be created to extract and manipulate the data held within those documents in ways that would be challenging at best to implement within Microsoft Office, and could facilitate interacting with such documents in ways that would can scarecly imagine today. We should also consider the potential for exchanging documents with business or Government entities in other countries that may decided to use open format and open source software over Microsoft products.

We also need to recognise that Microsoft Office is considered one of the biggest (if not the biggest) Microsoft "cash-cows" and so have a vested interest in preventing or hindering end users from being able to move away from Microsoft Office. I have met many people in industry who said that they only use Microsoft Office because "everyone else in business" uses Microsoft Office and they need to ensure compatability. We should also remember that Microsoft (amongst other companies) was recently forced to appear before the Austrailian Government to explain why their IT products cost significantly more than in other geographic reasons. Apparently Microsoft's response was that 'prices are fixed and customers can vote with their wallets' (according to media reports). This sounds to me suspiciously like 'We can charge what we want because people don't have a real choice if they want to be compatible with other businesses'.

Microsoft's current support for the Open Document Format (ODF) may be lacking in features at the moment but that will very quickly change if those end uses decide to 'vote with their wallets' and stop using Microsoft Office. A small "cash-cow" is better than a dead "cash-cow".

When industry recognised that being tied into Mainframe vendors was a bad idea we got properly standardised hardware, leading to an jump in available hardware products at reduced cost. When the Linux operating system was available as open source there was an increase in available operating system options, with varients aimed at different enthusiasts or business groups. When the Android operating system was made available as open source there was a jump in the available mobile devices, not just that used Andoird but also custom varients such as cyanogenmod.

Supporting ODF and using software that properly supports it will be a giant step forwards (and will probably lead to a rise in developement of such products which may create additional jobs) whereas not supporting ODF will be a step backwards that in principle goes against the Government's stated commitment to openess and transparency.

many busineses and genral public are still using earlier versions...

many busineses and genral public are still using earlier versions of MS Office. They would need to pay to upgrade to a recent version to read the new Microsoft standard. If ODF is chosen, they can download the free Libre Office. We should not be forcing people to pay to read documents.

Many Office Suites and programs use ODF.  Most cover all the same...

Many Office Suites and programs use ODF.  Most cover all the same middle-ground as each other but most have a niche market where they blossom

http://www.openoffice.org/download/

http://www.calligra.org/get-calligra/
http://userbase.kde.org/KOffice/Download

For extremely low spec machines or for a dedicated spreadsheet tool that knocks the spots off Excel (apparently)https://projects.gnome.org/gnumeric/

A word-processor for extremely low spec machines
http://www.abisource.com/download/

The ones for low spec machines may not look as glossy but often do have tons more power "under the bonnet" than 1st glance would imply.  There are many other suites and programs too.  I haven't given a link for Google-docs, for example.  I've only listed a few of my favourites.  Any one of which works well in co-operation with any of the others since they all use the same formats by default (ie ODF 1.2) so it really doesn't matter which anyone else is using as the documents open fine in whichever you are using. 

Regards from
Tom Davies

If the government is serious about cutting IT costs, this must be...

If the government is serious about cutting IT costs, this must be achieved by reducing vendor lock in. Selecting a single open document format (ODF) will allow all suppliers to compete on a level playing field, this will ultimately lead to reduced IT expenditure.

Allowing OOXML only favours Microsoft. Additionally the OOXML they use isn't even OOXML standard compliant. Therefore OOXML today is really just a proprietary format that appears to be open, but isn't. If ODF is insisted on, for government use, then all packages (from all vendors) will very quickly fully support this (they mostly do to a limited extent already).

ODF is the only sensible solution if the government wishes to prevent it's documents and data from having a commercial "gatekeeper", that can charge to access all our data now and into the future. This would even be unwise from an government data archiving point of view. I can't imagine that any commercial vendor would maintain access to today's documents say 40 years into the future (they may not even still be in business). OOXML as implemented by Microsoft today isn't standards compliant enough to allow future systems to read this information easily.

This all seems so very obvious. I believe anyone submitting comments here that backs the use of OOXML should be judged with suspicion, as perhaps just wanting the large government IT procurement gravy train to continue.

This is an excellent proposal.  ODF has been effectively...

This is an excellent proposal.  ODF has been effectively implemented by several vendors - it has proved itself as a useful standard that promotes interoperability. Conversely, OOXML has not been implemented, and probably can't be, by anybody.  This alone makes ODF a strong contender.  Any vendor can implement ODF; the barrier to entry is low, so the arguments against it can only be to maintain competetive advantage, aka costly lock-in.  This proposal is a significant blow for information freedom and a competitive marketplace.   

I support this proposal.  While OOXML is now an Open Standard (by...

I support this proposal.  While OOXML is now an Open Standard (by whatever means ...) it does not fare well against ODT when comparing the simplicity of their definitions and implementation.  An Open Standard which is so complex that there is only one implementation is 'open' in name only.  As has already been pointed out, there are many implementations of ODT from a variety of proprietary and Open Source software providers.  The has the advantages of (a) competition which reduces cost for governement and the consumer and (b) strict adherence to the defined standard, as no single implementation will gain a controlling share of the market, so 'value add' tailoring (i.e. lock-in features) of applications is reduced. 

Been reading many of these posts with interest but what we seem to...

Been reading many of these posts with interest but what we seem to have here is a theory / practice dilemma mixed up with some anti-corporate hobby horses. – Great on a whiteboard, chaos for the average department or IT supplier trying to implement it or anything else.

The idea of ODF is to be ‘open’ right? But surely imposing a single ‘open’ option is actually oxymoronic? It is through development, change and competition that we improve systems and that new innovations occur. The evolving multiple format approach we currently have only seems to be a problem if the systems that are ‘out there’ cannot deal with them and it is clear that each person is touting their favourites, which in itself seems to validate this argument. In my experience, most common and quality platforms will deal with pretty much all of them, free or otherwise. We seem to be trying to fix a problem that simply does not exist but with quite a bit of ire pointed at Microsoft. Given that Microsoft have been pretty open with their formats for the last 10 years, I can’t help feeling that much of the anti-Microsoft sentiment expressed is exactly that.

What concerns me the most though is that day in day out I see public sector systems that cannot even keep accurate tabs on a name and address without re-typing it. The level of integration or lack of it is actually quite a disgrace. – Just the very argument for an open standard such as ODF? Sorry but no. The bottom line is that imposing this as the only ‘open’ standard will involve having a large number of existing systems and interfaces re-written (probably several times) and initiatives having the brakes applied yet again whilst people try to get to grips with this. If this is actually deliverable in departments (which in my considerable public sector experience I severely doubt), any vendors concerned will not do it for free. The bill will be huge, projects will stop and I would predict a very high risk of failure - yet again.

Keep it truly open’ let the market decide. – If paying for these systems is such a barrier, how come adoption has been so high so far? If a preferable way is found, then people will vote with their feet. – Remember OSI and GOSSIP and here we are all using TCP/IP.

I applauded the sentiment but please leave it on the white board. IMHO we can’t mandate a single approach in the name of ‘openness’ and it is frankly naïve to think that this will in some way save money or make a genuinely positive difference to citizens or businesses.

You seem to be mixing a number of different points together to...

You seem to be mixing a number of different points together to form a slightly odd conclusion.

Firstly and regarding whether effort should be expended: It seems you're suggesting it's a noble cause, but not worth the effort because the civil service probably won't be able to implement it properly.  My problem with this notion is that virtually every improvement involves some pain - most of the government gateway services (online exchange, e.g. filing tax returns, VAT, etc.) had painful births, but now millions benefit.

Secondly and regarding 'market forces': You make the point that there can't be a problem as people are clearly prepared to pay for proprietary software.  This point is naive at best - people have used MS office for a bunch of reasons, not least because when they buy a PC it's usually pre-loaded with a time-limited copy of MS Office; they use it for a bit and then end up paying to activate it because they're not aware of alternatives... 

Standardising how we exchange data with our government makes sense for all citizens.  I've no doubt that some pain will be involved but the longer we procrastinate, the greater the pain will be.

To standardise on a format controlled by one company is blatently absurd, particularly when there is an open standard ready.

DG: i concur with notley. you fundamentally misunderstand and...

DG: i concur with notley. you fundamentally misunderstand and confuse the several meanings of "open". open-ness as in "lack of standards" results in total chaos. in the Intel world, the standardisation on the design of the x86 PC was done *well*, because the "plugins" - USB, PCIe cards, hard drives, memory - were *also* based around fixed *standards*.

you seriously want to tell me that PCs should be designed around a lack of standards for hardware peripherals??? because that's what you're saying. there's enough problems in the PC world selecting the right memory, the right processor, as it is.

so that's a good analogy as to why it is essential to pick one and only one format for a particular purpose and call it a "Standard". i've mentioned this several times already but once you put "options" into a "Standard", the entire standard becomes meaningless, and you end up with the situation(s) that many have described here - hospitals spending considerable effort - and money - converting between file formats instead of spending the money on looking after patients.

regarding the comment that it's "anti-microsoft sentiment" - there are good technical reasons for that. i'm the first to speak loudly about the technologies that microsoft has got right - loudly to a software libre community that won't listen, but hey :) but OOXML is, without a shadow of doubt, NOT one of those technologies. you can read my analysis here: http://standards.data.gov.uk/comment/569

I support this proposal almost as it stands.
As pointed out...

I support this proposal almost as it stands.
As pointed out, Microsoft XML is not an open standard and cannot be fully implemented by any other party. ODF is and can. The requirement should be that documents are in a format which is subject to an open standard, available for anyone to implement free of patent and royalty issues, and which can have a validation suite to check a document against the standard. Microsoft's XML format fails all these tests.

Mandating ODF (or any other format which meets the tests of being complete, open, implementable, and verifiable) does not in any way preclude any vendor, especially Microsoft. The standard is there for everyone to read and implement, if they choose to exclude themselves then that is their decision.

The same goes for "the public". No vendor (including Microsoft) would be excluded from providing software for the public to use unless they chose to exclude themselves by not supporting the open standard(s) specified.

There may be a need to consider if any restrictions need to be imposed. E.g., where a standard allows extensions, then it would be prudent to exclude the use of them unless there is a good reason. And there is probably an argument that having settled on a standard (or standards) and possibly a subset, that government users have a tool which will check documents for compliance as part of the release workflow.

As a user of new technology for many years I would like to comment...

As a user of new technology for many years I would like to comment -

firstly use by government local and national of electronic means of communication is the right way - it will promote participation in the democratic process if people can access government documents on their phones, tablets, and yet-to-be-invented devices.

secondly, it is vital that assumptions not be made about partnerships with manufacturers and retailers of proprietory and closed-source systems and formats. We have seen problems with Acorn and the BBC micro, and with the rise and fall of software companies, with their proprietary file formats over the years.

It is quite right that the government should protect membersof the British public from having to buy any particular type of software or device but should adopt open, non-proprietary formats which are inclusive and available to all.

Many members of the general public I think are unaware of the problems surrounding this issue and would probably choose to use the file formats associated with the applications they commonly use, and disregard the problems that would follow on of this course were adopted.

With the complexity of modern documents, an open format capable of embracing complex document formation must be used, and it must not be a proprietary format. It must be open source and available to all.

Therefore I am in agreement with the proposals to adopt the Open Document and HTML formats.

I do not agree with comments I have seen criticising the use of csv files - such files have been widely used without problem for many years. The only question is whether the format is capable of rendering modern complex data files, or whether an open spreadsheet and database format would be preferable.

I think these proposals are good on two levels:

Firstly,...

I think these proposals are good on two levels:

Firstly, the use of truly open document formats supported by multiple software vendors allows true choice in the software used to both produce and view those documents. This choice of multiple vendors will drive both price economy and software innovation/development.

Secondly, the adoption of this practice will highlight that there are alternatives to the virtually universal use of Microsoft Office for document production. Currently I am effectively obliged to own a copy of Microsoft Office in order that my primary school aged children can complete homework assignments and productively interact with their schools virual learning platform (web portal). While I am lucky enough to have obtained said copy of Microsoft Office at a massively discounted price on a home usage programme via my employer's Microsoft licencing agreement, I know this is simply not available to the great majority of parents.

I support this move. ODF is an open format that should be fully...

I support this move. ODF is an open format that should be fully supported by all companies that are not looking to lock users into their software.

(I clicked Save on an earlier comment, thinking...

(I clicked Save on an earlier comment, thinking it would save as draft. Instead, it submitted my comment, which I can no longer see.

Personally, I support the proposal because it will lead to reduced costs for the public sector and members of the public. It will also make exchanging information much easier.

Professionally, I produce documentation, writing mainly in XML and subsequently transforming this to other formats, such as XHTML, EPUB, and PDF. The plain text nature of XML means that I can use a variety of tools to process the documents; I am not restricted to a single costly package. The bane of my life is someone getting the latest version of Word, and sending me a document that cannot be rendered correctly by Open Office, and cannot even be opened by my ageing copy of Word 2003.

(I think I'm done this time.)

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I wholeheartedly agree with your aim of...

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I wholeheartedly agree with your aim of achieving open standards for the sharing or collaborating with government documents. In particular the ODF standards identified should be regarded as the primary method, since it is these that are well defined, and hence fully implementable and in turn manageable. Other identified methods, such as CSV and TXT although in principle simple, should be acknowledged as ill-defined and hence subject to misinterpretation.   I am a UK citizen with no industry affiliations or commercial vested interests.I have the following points of emphasis, which are considered essential, if those standards are to be achieved in practice, without divergence, fragmentation or vendor lock-in.1.      Compliance: Those organisations providing the open standard software must actually meet the standard in terms of compliance. Most explicitly, they must not include additional enhancements, options or functions over and above that included in the specified standard.In the past such enhancements and additions to otherwise internationally recognised standards have lead to unintended lock-in. This is a well-known strategy adopted by some commercial suppliers, whereby the user makes use of the seemingly useful non-standard enhancements, but finds his work is irrevocably locked-in, since the enhancements will not be recognised by other compliant vendors.2.      Multi-Source: The identified standard, such as ODF, must always be implemented by at least two independent sources. This is to ensure long-term continuity, in the event of failure of any single provider.ODF meets this criteria by being supported by Libre Office, Open Office, and IBM Lotus Symphony, all of which are available free of charge. Personally, I would recommend Libre Office, since it is now the default Office Suite included in the many Ubuntu operating systems (which are also free of charge).3.      Diversity in terms of alternative standards should be minimised. Another well-known strategy adopted by some commercial suppliers is to insist on having alternative standards, often including their own proprietary variant of a notional standard. This is known as the strategy of divide and conquer, and leads to fragmentation, loss of management, and ultimately lock-in to the proprietary variant.4.      Retargetable:  Whilst the standard once written can be expected to exist for all time, with version control applied etc., the same cannot be said for the machine hardware that supports the standards application software. It is important to consider this aspect, when selecting standards that are expected to have substantial longevity. If a notional standard was included, that was effectively tied to a particular commercial supplier; any retargeting of the standards software would be solely at the discretion of the supplier, and not within the control of any other party. This situation could well arise, given the trend toward more portable devices, and widening availability of network connectivity.It would not be unreasonable to expect the lifetime of these standards to be at least 20 years, and perhaps nearer 50 years. After all, that would not include many census returns. The only realistic way to ensure this longevity is achievable is to only select standards that are supported by free, publicly available source code. This is indeed the case with ODF via Libre Office and Open Office.5.      Language should also be considered, given our multicultural country. Whilst TXT might be a simplistic approach when using English, it cannot be realistically considered in any other language without using extended codes akin to the days of MSDOS. Again to avoid fragmenting the standards approach, the emphasis should be on using the ODF as the primary method, supported by the Office Suite, which in turn supports the language variations. 

I support this proposal. It seems very sensible overall, and I...

I support this proposal. It seems very sensible overall, and I'm very pleased to finally see an understanding in government of the importance of open standards for documents. I've been a user of minority OSes for over 20 years (RISCOS and Linux) and have suffered from the tendency to use proprietary document formats in the past.

"Google supports the use of ODF as an open document format....

"Google supports the use of ODF as an open document format. ODF is an international open standard free to implement by all software developers without restrictions. Choosing ODF will allow the UK Government to select from a wide range of implementations to get the best value for UK taxpayers."

Vint Cerf
VP & Chief Internet Evangelist

(submitted on his behalf by Jeremy Allison, Google Open Source Programs Office).

While I might have the odd quibble(*), in general I fully support...

While I might have the odd quibble(*), in general I fully support this proposal.

This is not about one application (and vendor) versus another: it is about providing information to the UK people in the best way possible, and the best way must be based on standards which are used widely. So it must cover not just software which may be used by the government, but also software which may be used by the populace as a whole.

The standards chosen fit that requirement.

I particularly like:

  • the preference for HTML for on-line publications
  • "Macros should be avoided wherever possible, particularly when sharing documents."

[Perhaps we could also have a single account registration for providing feed-back to the government too?]

* The only quibble I actually have is "Unicode 6.2", since the link on that text points to a page which says it has been superseded by 6.3 - but that may not be particularly relevant.

I am strongly in favour of ODF, I edit / create / send / receive...

I am strongly in favour of ODF, I edit / create / send / receive documents on Tablets and other portable devices - none of which run Microsoft office, nor to I have a high speed link available to use cloud based editors.

ODF makes me more productive and irrespective of my device I can access and update all my documents .

In my view Microsoft is indeed worrying about loss of revenue by not forcing people to Microsoft's proprietary formats.

I understand at least one country had stopped using Microsoft Operating systems and Office software completely and has therefore saved the country untold millions of $ and at the same time as a result of this saving their education establishments have 1 pc per student as opposed to a shared basis.

If you sent me a Microsoft document today by email you would have to wait until the weekend when I get home before I can access it !

Regarding TAB/Comma separated data, TAB is quite unusable on non-ascii operating systems, CSV has it's flaws but at least I can import it, converting an ascii tab x'09'requires me to translate it to an obscure hex value before uploading it which automatically translates to something I can use as a separator.

I fully accept the logic behind the proposal, and the debate to...

I fully accept the logic behind the proposal, and the debate to inspect cost of  software and proprietary standards, we all have a duty to help reduce the cost of government and prevent profiteering. However, if OOXML is a genuine registered Open Standard then I can't see how it cannot be on the list of accepted file formats with ODF. It would be discriminatory to exclude it based on who was behind creating it, and I'm not sure that is the place of government to openly be prejudiced against individual vendors.

If we are going down the route of inspecting practices of individual vendors then I assume we will with the same ferocity be going after Apple to enforce an Open App and Content standard to release people who are locked into their content eco system, forcing Google to implement an open search standards so we can use their search engine without having to be tracked by their Orwellian systems.

I am sure responses will be personal so I will make it easy for you, yes I work for a Microsoft Gold partner, but surprisingly have also used Linux and Open Office in the past, naturally I can't have a balanced view.

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