The DistRogue

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Arch: Pros Only, But Not Bad

Arch Linux is one of the few distributions to be optimized for an i686 processor- in other words, it's really fast without having to compile anything. It uses a custom package manager called Pacman (which, surprisingly enough, doesn't seem to spark any legal controversy), which works similarly to Apt in that it has dependency tracking and relies on repositories. Arch's philosophy is to start with a base system and install all the graphical components manually via Pacman. This means you need a working Intertube connection and a fair amount of time on your hands. A caution before you install Arch: Arch is NOT meant for newbies. If you're afraid to get your hands dirty with a little low-level tweakage, you might want to consider trying something else.

-Phase One: install base system from CD
The base install went pretty well. User setup is done manually, and as a result, there were only a few steps I had to go through. Partitioning was a breeze- I only needed to set up the mount points and format the / partition. Although the base system is tiny, there's still detailed package selection (optional). All in all, the base install took about 10 minutes from boot to boot.
-Phase Two: Setting up the base system
Setting up a wired connection was annoying, but it didn't take that long. After searching around for a bit, I ran "dhcpcd eth0" and the connection worked. It took me about half an hour of looking through the Pacmanual to find something that was right under my nose: to update the database (which I needed to do before installing anything), run "pacman -Sy". Pacman has an annoying number of options, but they're divided into 6 main commands, each with their own options, so it's not a complete mess.
-Phase Three: Installing the desktop
After typing "pacman -S xorg kde" and waiting 30-odd minutes (most of which was spent downloading- the installation itself was extremely fast), I had a working desktop environment. It took a few more "pacman -S"es to make it usable, but thanks to hwd ("pacman -S hwd"), Intel GMA drivers ("pacman -S xf86-video-intel 915resolution"), and a little tweakage, my desktop ran quickly and at full resolution. Obviously, this isn't a "Just Works (tm)" distro, but it's not supposed to be.

It's Plastik/CrystalSVG with some (bland) Arch wallpaper. Nothing special...

Installed Software
The CD itself comes with barely any software. A full install like the one I used, on the other hand, is pretty good. The kde metapackage doesn't come with amaroK, and Firefox isn't included, but they're both a "pacman -S" away. (The kde package, however, did have MP3 playback.) Installing the xfce4 metapackage yielded a decidedly complete XFCE desktop. Flash, unsurprisingly, wasn't in any of the metapackages I used.

Hardware Support
My wireless card, strange as it might seem, was supported out of the box. But without any nice, easy programs to get it working (short of iwconfig, which worked, but dhcpcd still didn't like it), that didn't really matter. I did, however, get my native screen resolution working with a minimum of tweaking. On the minus side, there's still that nasty little screen bug...

As would be expected, Arch ran very fast. Tremulous ran amazingly smoothly, even with a full KDEMod desktop, as did Sauerbraten, even with water refractions and dynamic lighting/shadows.

Archers get to use KDEMod, a modified version of KDE built specifically for Arch. It isn't really that much different from vanilla KDE, except that it has better artwork (Domino windeco/theme engine) and a slightly better Qt3. The biggest improvement seems to be Domino, which can be installed on other distros anyways. It isn't really anything insanely special.

-Very customizable
-Fast, capable package manager
-Very hard to install
-Hardware support is minimal
Friendliness: 2/5
- At least you don't have to compile anything.
Performance: 4.5/5- It's i686 optimized. If you want anything faster, you'll have to use a source-based distro.
Features: 3/5- A basic desktop is easy to install.
Packaging: 3.5/5- Good package manager, but no GUI.
Artwork: 1/2.5- Nothing special.
Community: 2/2.5- The Arch community seems friendly and helpful, the wiki even has an in-depth beginner's guide for newbies.

Overall: 3.2/5- A solid distribution, but not recommended for newbies.
From Arch (versionless),
The Distrogue.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

-Very hard to install
-Hardware support is minimal

Arch is really not that complicated to install, you yourself said it took 10 minuted from boot to boot. And the hardware support is minimal comment is just laughable. You fail.

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

diat: "Arch is really not that complicated to install, you yourself said it took 10 minuted from boot to boot."

DJ Gentoo probably meant that setting up the base system and installing the desktop are installation tasks, too, because he put those paragraphs under Installation heading. This makes the installation last longer than 10 minutes. It sounds like you missed some basic things of the review.

Diat: "And the hardware support is minimal comment is just laughable. You fail."

If someone doesn't manage to get their hardware 100% working in Arch Linux, the person is definitely a bungler. Yeah, Arch can never be at fault. This seems to be your attitude, because you give no better reasons why you speak of laughability and failure.

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arch does support as much hardware as every other distribution, this doesn't mean all the drivers are available for immediate install, but, what the original review also didn't mention, it's very easy to build your own packages via makepkg.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Schwarze Krause said...

I wanted to make the point about KDEmod. Its benefits are not really obvious if you just type 'pacman -S kdemod-complete'.
First, KDEmod allows you to install single KDE programs instead of whole group packages. So you can install kmix without installing all the other packages in kdemultimedia group. Another point is that KDEmod has some patches over the 'vanilla' KDE - for example, it has a SuSE's kickoff menu in 3.5.8. And at last, it has a customized version of QT, but I can't be specific here.

Your review had a strange goal - to compare ArchLinux with some user-friendly distros. And naturally Arch can't win on this field - it has a completely different philosophy.
Instead of that you should have compared it to other advanced distros like Gentoo or Slackware. And I don't want to offend the users of these distros: both Gentoo and Slackware have a strong concept and that's why what I consider to be a pain, others would consider to be a feature.

But for me, Arch is the best KISS-compliant distro. On one hand, it allows you to have a pure basic and up2date system in no time. Unlike Slackware it has an advanced package manager and some other infrastructure, too(netcfg, etc).

You didn't mention the fact that a good deal of configuring in Arch can be done through editing a single rc.conf file.

You didn't mention how easily one can customize the packages in Arch - through ABS you can just get the pkgbuilds for any package there is in the repos, make your adjustments and get whatever you need. This isn't as flexible as portage, but IMHO, one doesn't need that in Arch, For example, I've never used it at all. But I guess that one day I'll have to build 3rd party packages from scratch - and here ABS would help me to get the packages, that pacman can handle.

And how about the AUR, the user-contributed repo, where one can easily find whatever he needs? A pkgbuild can be posted there in no time. yes, there are some drawbacks (that's why Arch doesn't handle AUR pkgbuilds automatically by default) but anyway that's a great stuff.

And how about the freshness of the packages? Linux 2.6.24 got into the testing branch the same day the sources went public!

Speaking of hardware support and so on. Arch is a meta-distribution in the sense Gentoo is - there are only some basic packages installed on every system and you can build any system you like atop of it. And all the packages are as pure as possible (though the maintainers are reasonable here - for example, kernel 2.6.23 was patched to include alsa 1.0.15 instead of 1.0.14 since it allowed to have support for some vital hardware. None of the distros I've tried after that had that nice little thing), so Arch can do whatever any Linux distro can do, it can use any 3rd package that is distributed in sources for the Linux platform and so on. So I can't see your point here. yes, out-of-the-box there is nothing in Arch. But that's because Arch is made for customizations and on its field it is a very strong player.

11:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arch ist Geil und besser als deine Frau :D

mir geht dabei immer wieder einer ab, wenn bei "abs" "mkdir ~/package-build/" "cp -r /* danach alles gleich funktioniert :D

4:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i quote "you fail".

Arch install CD comes with a bare minimum system, but you can manually download the further packages you want to install and either add them to the install cd or do it later....

You had to wait a bit to install KDE... That's true, KDE sucks heavy. With other distros you would take that time as well, but instead of being downloading it with a working system, you would be downloading it in the install CD...
Offline instalations take pretty much the time it takes a package to unpack......... "Again", you don't need a connection... You need it to get the system and packages you'll use, as with any other distro...

Hardware support is awesome. You just expected hardware to work out of a base installation.... That's lame. You have to insatll drivers... It's not like most distros, that come packed with thousands of drivers when you are only going to use 3, or 5...

Artwork in packages is not a matter of evaluation under arch... The KDE wallpaper is probably one out of 5, if that much (i don't recall any other), art customizations in the whole supported packages.

Firefox won't come with XFCE4 or KDE or GNOME or any other window manager/desktop environment because none have firefox listed as a dependency. The same goes for flash...

If you want it, install it.
The Arch way is "the user's way", and that is what Arch users are into.

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the poster who stated that you can't compare Arch with a "user friendly" distro because Arch is not meant for the masses the way Ubuntu and Linux Mint are - what I mean is that Arch doesn't try to be the be-all-end-all distribution but should indeed be compared to Slackware, Zenwalk (Slack derivative), or even Gentoo. I do agree that Arch does take a little while longer to set up and it will be mandatory to edit some config files along the way, but on the whole, Arch keeps it as simple as possible while still offering the freedom do use whatever package one would need for any task.

I have been using Arch for almost 2 years now and I actually have my laptop dual-booting between Arch and Ubuntu 7.10. I find myself using Arch more than Ubuntu for the most part. If you want a more competent install through Arch Linux, I suggest you use the Office CD or use (my preference) Archie.

5:28 PM  
Blogger DJ Gentoo said...

I said myself that Arch wasn't supposed to be a "Just Works" distro, and tried to emphasize that fact. I understand that it's not aimed at being newbie-friendly, which is why I emphasized the fact that someone new to Linux wouldn't like it. And diat, do us all a favor and read the article, namely the "Installation" section, and try a distribution where you don't have to edit a dozen .conf files to get your wireless working. Don't get me wrong, some people like the configurability that comes with having to do that, but others don't.

5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a former Debian and Gentoo user, I can assuredly say that Arch is king. It is the best of GNU/Linux and *BSD rolled into one.
As far as "editing a dozen .conf files" to get wireless working, try 1 file: /etc/rc.conf. The network daemon sources /etc/rc.conf, and therefore ALL configuration settings can go right in there under the NETWORKING section:
wlan_ath0="ath0 essid yourssid key yourkey"
INTERFACES=(lo ath0 eth0)
Easy enough.
I think if you had taken more time to learn and embrace the Arch way, I think the review would have been more accurate.

12:31 AM  
Blogger Schwarze Krause said...

Well, I guess, the problem here is a bit more global: all the distro reviews one can find today, judge by the installation procedure, package manager and the default set of software. Probably, also some configure center like YaST or drakconf. But none of them goes any deeper. And if in case with things like OpenSuSE, Mandriva, Ubuntu or PCLinuxOS that can be enough, how would you compare Arch to SLackware or Gentoo by the steps you've mentioned? Simply by the facts that Gentoo implies building everything from sources and Slackware officially doesn't offer any package management?

1:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good review! It seems that it is a good distribution but not for me! (not yet...)

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arch is awesome. I used to be an Ubuntu guy, and I still am, but Arch is simply too fast and feature rich to let go. Something left out is the fact that you can install arch once, and for the eternity og that box, continue to upgrade all packages without need to ever reinstall again. Arch is by far my favorite distro and once installed and set up, it is hard to go back to another distro except to play around or unless one is still a newbie in install step. Ask in the forum and look at wiki, you'd be fine.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Kazuya I use both Ubuntu and Arch and I too think that Arch is a great little distro. Yes, it isn't newbie friendly as Ubuntu, but if you put effort into reading the wiki and ask questions in the forums you will reap the rewards.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't want to sound confrontational, but I don't understand the 'Hardware support is minimal' comment. The Linux kernel is the linux kernel- it supports a vast array of hardware on Arch, just like on every other distro. The Arch install cd also includes every wireless driver available.
And as far as editing 'a dozen .conf files', that seems like PEBKAC to me.
As was stated, /etc/rc.conf is the one file you should put your settings into, since it is sourced by the network script.
You don't even have to put anything into /etc/wireless.conf if you put it in rc.conf.

6:39 PM  
Blogger Anders H said...

I would like to concur a bit with some of the comments.

The standard of evaluation should be that of a do-it-yourself distro - that is, how much does it enable you to take full control of your OS and how elegantly/easily does it accomplish this, both in terms of setup and support.

Also, I would say any review of arch should mention ABS at the least. With AUR and apps like yaourt, which granted are not officially supported, you have a software management utlity that is to my mind the most powerful and extensive of its kind of all linux distros (and I am sucker for debian as it is for the same reason).

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you assert that "distribution is really fast", the pro thing is giving some benchmarks not "such program looked fast" (a thing who could be due for instance because the distribution was shipped with the proprietary Nvidia or ATI driver and would be not faster than any other once this is installed)

Second: When you tell "it is fast because it is compiled for 686" then you only prove that you know nothing aboput compilers and optimization for a processor. Processor ganerations in the X86 famliy differ not only in the set of isntructions they accept (with every genaration accepting a superset of what was accepted by the preceeding one) but also in the realtive speeds of the different instructions. It even happens that at times that in a brand new processor these relative speeds are closer to thoose of the humlble 386 than to those of the preceeding generation. A well known case was the copying of memory blocks who on post-Pentium processsors is faster
if you perform it using the fastest sequence for the 386 than in the fastest for the Pentium.

Now gcc can compile in three ways: with 386 instructions with 386 speed table (default), with 386 instructions but newer generation speed table (-mtune=XXX) or with newer generation instructions and speed table(-march=XXXX). Theorically there is a fourth mode: intermediate generation instructions and newer generation speed table: eg i686 instructions and P4 speed table but last time I checked gcc silently falls to 686 instructions and speed table.

Thus it is not a foregone conclusion tht code compiled with -march=i686 will be faster on a p4 than code compiled with -mtune=p4 because the gain of the additional instructions could be more than compensated by the loss due to the use of instruction sequences who are fast on the 686 and slow on the p4. In fact it could even theorically happen that your program optimized for the 686 will run slower on your core2 or P4 than a program optimized for the 386.

BTW if I look at Fedora8 as an example of "average contemporary distribution it is compiled with -tune=p4
except for kernel, glibc and openssl who are compiled with arch=i686 because they include hand coded assembly.

1:18 PM  
Blogger DJ Gentoo said...

Okay, if nobody can take it if I review something from a newbie's POV, then I'll gladly take the review down and we can all live in a world where everyone knows everything there is to know about a computer from the second they start using one.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

DJ G -

Don't let the little piss-ants get to you. It's obvious that most of the negative comments come from "screen tan boys" that are still fighting thru puberty.

I have been playing with various Linux' since 1995 and I had never really looked at Arch before; so many distros, so little time. Your overview gave me a decent glimpse into Arch. Things I learned:
1) It won't run on my 386 system.
2) It won't run out-of-the-box similar to Ubuntu.
3) It uses (yet another) package manager to track and install software. (pacman)
4) If I ever want to use it, I'll need to learn more about pacman and plan to spend a few hours pac -S'ing stuff.

Side note: Smart-ass little kids, learn some manners. *f'ing punks*

3:54 PM  
Blogger Schwarze Krause said...

I've read the whole thread and couldn't find any offending post - except the one you wrote. So I guess you aren't the one to speak about manners.
2author: no one here said that "user-friendly" distros are bad or else. All the things people said here - are that there are many major features of the distro you didn't mention and some points you made were a bit inadequate: you admitted that the distro isn't newbie-oriented but you kept on looking at the distro from the position of a newbie. And the review of such a distro should be primarily aimed at the Slackware/Gentoo/Debian users - the somewhat experienced users who don't really care what kind of artwork can a distro offer by default. The newbies are warned, so why don't tell the others of some nice stuff?

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a lazy review. The reviewer seems to completely miss the concept of Arch.

It is the one of the most flexible Linux distro's you can use WITHOUT getting your hands dirty. The forums and wikis are very helpful, and after just a bit of reading anyone can install a gfx environment. I am no pro user.

Getting your hands dirty would imply compiling everything from source and rummaging around for packages, 99% of what you need is packaged and ready to go at the press of a button.

It is also not to be compared to SuSE, Ubuntu etc; but on the other hand I would call installing AND getting everything to work on ANY machine in Arch easier; it doesn't hide any settings from you so when something is missing you just know you haven't installed or configured it yet.

I could go on but I just wanted to clarify things for people who might read your review and be turned off such a distro.

3:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arch isn't complicated to install nor a pain if you follow the "Beginners Guide" in the Wiki. It walks you through the entire install, modifications to rc.conf, setting up your pakage mirror(s), installing x, etc.

Yeah it's not all set up for you but that is the beauty of the system...YOU have control of what is running and what isn't.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very superficial review. The reviewer has missed many of the unique points that make Arch a distribution that people almost always stick with, once they've discovered it. Arch is simple to configure, has thousands of ready built, up to date packages, a highly knowledgeable community and the ability to easily create your own packages. Best of all it has a rolling release capability that ensures your software is always up to date on a daily basis - I installed it 2.5 years ago and haven't needed to reinstall it, yet I have the latest software.

7:41 AM  
Blogger DJ Gentoo said...

I repeat: If nobody can take it if I review something from a newbie's POV, then I'll gladly take the review down and we can all live in a world where everyone knows everything there is to know about a computer from the second they start using one.

7:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have a look here if you want to know how people have customised their Arch Linux desktops:
Bland indeed. Not.

7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arch is in between distributions like Slackware or Gentoo and Fedora or Debian.

It tries not to go into any radical solutions, but just find way inside middle of them. And this is the best thing.
"easy" distributions main problem that they forces to use already configured system. And then changing something is quite complicated or almost inpossible.
"hard" distributions main problem that they force to compile or configure everything. And maybe you just want to install and use program x not to * with it few hours untill you will be able to start it.
ArchLinux awoids to force anything as much as possible.

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

- Very hard to install

That statement is relatively true ;p ask a Mac user to "install" anything would be catastrophic.

I have been beating around to find a light and customizable enough distro for my 6 year old laptop and after trying half a dozen of distro, I am sticking with Arch :)

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since when is a GUI an integral part of a package manager?

5:58 AM  
Blogger DJ Gentoo said...

Comments from Arch fanboys will be tolerated. Blatant spamvertising, however, will be burninated on sight.

12:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I've been an Arch user for more than two years now and I love it for all the reasons mentioned here. For those of you who would like to give Arch a try, but fear the initial effort, let me tell you two things.
1) You will install it only once (like I did back in 2005). Keeping Arch up to date is incredibly painless. IMHO much simpler than dist-upgrading Debian/Ubuntu or SuSE.
2) If you're not yet convinced, try FaunOS. It's a live Arch distro which provides an easy "one click installation". However, you'll have to live with the drawbacks of an "easy to install OS" ;-)

4:43 PM  
Blogger Jean Azzopardi said...

I was also a mega Ubuntu user (been using it for 2-3 years now..yet I have switched my laptop to Arch Linux. It's faster, and the hardware works well with it. I am using a Sony VAIO VGN-FE48E btw.
In Ubuntu, suspend/hibernate did not work. In Arch, I just had to install pm-utils.

Complicated? Well, Ubuntu was a walk in the park to install, Arch was a bit harder, I can admit it. However, the wiki is excellent, and you can also get help from IRC, which I did since my system didn't boot at first (I just needed to use the failsafe kernel).

Pacman is very good..I find it faster than apt-get when installing packages. However, I think a good GUI utility for it would be welcome. My dream is that one day Synaptic would be integrated to pacman.

That said, I don't like the way some leet users are trolling this guy by saying "You fail". To put it plainly, Arch is not as user friendly as Ubuntu. You need to roll up your sleeves and start working on it. However, it is a good distro..which is why I am using it now.

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review.
Being active in the Arch community, I do wish your overall 'scores' were a bit higher, but I for one appreciate you taking the time to review Arch.
Arch is growing and so is the quality of the wiki and documentation, so I hope anyone interested in the distribution will be willing to give it a try; the installation guides are quite excellent, if I do say so myself. ;)

1:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This review seems a little tossed off. Some homework and clarification regarding your intentions would have spared you the ensuing attacks by loyal Arch users.

Yes, Arch makes a pretty lousy distribution for people who want prepackaged eye candy, gui installers, and automatic hardware configuration. However, if you had taken the time to read the Arch propaganda, you would see that these things have never been goals of the Arch project.

Arch is intentionally about configuring things with the command line and text files, and building the system up with ONLY the things your choose to include. This normally makes for a very light, very fast, purpose built workstation. It's not for beginners, but the work does pay dividends.

More reading would have revealed the reasons why KDEMod exists (customization, speed, etc etc.), the large amount of software available in the Arch User Repository, and how easy it is to package software for use in Arch.

I take issue with you saying Arch is a lousy distribution because it did not meet your expectations. Arch may be a poor fit for what you want to do, but almost point for point the things you disliked about Arch are the things that have earned it an extremely loyal following by power users.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Coda said...

I use arch and I'm relatively a newb. I love Arch, it's the best out of the many Linux systems that I have tested. No GUI to pacman? Well, DUH! Arch starts off in text mode and if my package manager had a GUI, how would I install anything? Why didn't you use the beginner's guide when you installed? You would have had no trouble.

10:08 PM  
Blogger DJ Gentoo said...

As it happens, I didn't have any trouble that the docs could have fixed.

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Linux noob and I chose Arch. I don't really have a lot to compare it to but why isn't it considered user friendly? Pacman is straight forward and there is plenty of documentation aimed at my level.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DJG: "I repeat: If nobody can take it if I review something from a newbie's POV, then I'll gladly take the review down and we can all live in a world where everyone knows everything there is to know about a computer from the second they start using one."

I don't understand why you're this when:
1) Noobs who take the dive and decided to give Arch a try, as some have mentioned, will learn about Linux. I think this is a fantastic thing for noobs to do as knowing Linux rather than their distribution is nearly priceless these days.
1a) In 3 days of setup and configuration, everyone (excluding Slack, Gentoo, and *BSD users) will learn more from Arch than they would in using Ubuntu and the like for 3 months or even 3 years. I was a Ubuntu then a Fedora user for 3 or 4 years, and I can honestly say that they didn't teach me anything. I now know my way around the system instead of just the specific GUI functions of whichever OS I was using.

2) You're threatening taking it down because some of us feel that you cheated Arch in the review? By looking at it from a noob's POV? By not taking the time, seemingly, to really investigate certain features, like the Arch User Repo (AUR) and Arch Build System (ABS), two of the best functions of Arch? By cheating pacman, considered one of the single best package managers on the planet not just by us but by prominent reviewers and devs in the Linux and BSD worlds? You're getting mad because people are correcting and expanding on what you said?

That's just silly. You put this in a public domain with a comment ability. There aren't that many reviews of Arch so of course this would be found by many. You should have expected this. Don't get mad at us, just accept that you may not have had your facts right or didn't go in depth enough for some of us. Granted, some of the commenters could have been more courteous, like the one about the compiling for X86, but none of the posts have been offending in any way, except for the one that called us 'fing punks'. That was rude and unnecessary.

3) You state that its not meant for noobs way up at the beginning of the review, so why, in scoring it, are you giving it low numbers because its not newb friendly? That's just ass backwards if you ask me. Plain and simple. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I just wholeheartedly don't understand.

However, thanks for trying Arch. Although the review seems a little 'odd' at times, I hope that people will read the comments and get more information on Arch.

9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe some of you people might like Sidux better.

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cool site man! i must subscribe to this =)

10:00 PM  
Blogger whoissecretdubai said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:20 AM  

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