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  • Apple Ditches Technologies Right and Left

    November 5th, 2010

    Just the other day, the pundits started ranting about yet another technology that Apple is evidently discarding. This comes as the result of the decision to deprecate Java — in other words stop development — as of the release of Mac OS X Lion next year.

    Now Java is a cross-platform development tool that’s quite popular in the Windows and Unix worlds, but hasn’t taken the Mac by storm, except mostly in server and scientific markets. While Apple has undertaken development of the Mac version, Java is now owned by Oracle, whose CEO is Larry Ellison, a close friend of Steve Jobs.

    What this means is that, if Oracle wants to see new Mac versions, they will have to take over the programming chores, or let third parties do it.

    Now the write once, run anywhere philosophy is laudable, but there aren’t a lot of Java-based Mac apps. Many of them pay only lip service to the Mac interface and usually suffer from performance problems. This doesn’t mean some don’t work well, and it is not necessarily the nail in the coffin for Java on the Mac. I suppose if enough developers clamored for it, Oracle or someone else would see the wisdom of keeping it going.

    For Apple, it’s all Cocoa all the time, which is Mac OS X’s native development environment, although many apps, including ones from Adobe and Microsoft, still use the less flexible Carbon technology instead.

    Just recently, Apple put the kibosh on bundling Flash with new Macs, starting with the MacBook Air. That means if Flash is preloaded on your Mac, even if you just bought it, that may be the last of the production units with Flash. From now on, if you want Flash, you’ll have to download a copy from Adobe. Maybe that decision will encourage the company to offer a built-in update mechanism, so if a version is declared unsafe, you’ll be warned to download the fixed version.

    Now I realize that Jobs has been lambasted by some for the decision to zap Flash from the system install DVD, but there’s a precedent. Both Windows Vista and Windows 7 ship without Flash, so why isn’t Steve Ballmer facing similar criticisms?

    Oh, that’s right. Jobs is the control freak, and Ballmer is the addled CEO who just spouts nonsense, so you might as well ignore him.

    While I’m no great lover of Flash, or Adobe for that matter, I do hope this move encourages them to take more care in making sure Mac users are always offered the latest, most secure version. As some of you recall, some Mac OS X upgrade packs have occasionally shipped with versions of Flash laden with security problems, even though those problems had already been fixed with updates. That’s often because it takes time to certify a component of the operating system, add it to the standard installation, and then go through the normal Q&A process to make sure everything works.

    No, I don’t subscribe to the paranoid viewpoint that Apple stuck a buggy version of Flash into the Mac OS out of spite for Adobe. Being vindictive isn’t part of Apple’s DNA, although some might think so in light of the outspoken comments from Steve Jobs about Flash and other products.

    The other day, Jobs reportedly indicated that Apple wasn’t about to jump on the brand new USB 3.0 bandwagon, even though peripherals had become available. This is evidently because the new peripheral standard hasn’t yet been included in the latest Intel chipsets (I assume). Indeed, it appears Intel is more interested in superior technology, Light Peak, which uses high-speed optical cables.

    Apple and Intel are supposedly high on Light Peak, which promises a bandwidth of 10Gbps, reportedly scaling to 100Gbps as development continues. What this means, evidently, is that a full-length Blue-ray movie could stream over Light Peak in 30 seconds flat. You’d even be able to use it with a display or even a flat panel TV, I gather. So will HDMI also go by the wayside in the quest for uniformity?

    Clearly, new storage devices and other peripherals would have to be built to take advantage of the extraordinary performance promised by Light Peak, which is expected to debut early in 2011. If all goes well, that would mean that you’ll see new Mac products sporting Light Peak by spring. If it catches on, and Apple has a good record of jumping on promising technologies for the most part, it may mean that USB 3.0 is destined to enter the dustbin of history.

    Yes, I know Apple developed and promoted FireWire early on, and development continues, but as more and more computers support other protocols, FireWire may be joining USB 3.0 eventually.

    Of course, all this depends on just how much Light Peak chips will cost, and how that might impact the price of new peripherals. If it’s cheap, Intel’s support could mean even PCs will get on the bandwagon. But I won’t presume to make any guesses until supporting products are released and tested.

    Maybe it won’t be long before even USB becomes the equivalent of floppies.



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    32 Responses to “Apple Ditches Technologies Right and Left”

    1. Angry Zebra says:

      You know, it used to be that if you were a developer and deployed to a Unix environment that OSX, and the mac hardware it ran on, was the best choice. With Apple deciding to forgo Java maintenance, and a big emphasis on iOS apps rather than web-based ones, why should any developer buy Apple hardware or software now?

      I’ve had the optical drives in 4 of my last 5 macs fail. I can’t run a 720P video on my year old Mini without stutters. I have my external drive unmount on its own and I run Disk Utility multiple times a day to fix permission errors on Java, LaunchD, and the Apache2 user files.

      Why should I buy Apple stuff anymore? Frankly, I don’t see any compelling answers. HTPCs are cheaper and more capable running Windows or Linux. My electronics speak DLNA, not AirPlay. Soon, Apple will turn my iPad orientation lock into a mute button for no apparent reason, despite wide protests.

      I couldn’t care about Flash and while I am not a Java developer, I do develop websites. I don’t think Apple wants me as a customer anymore and I am happy to oblige. Learning .NET is more financially rewarding than trying to advocate open source tools that Apple may drop support for at a whim.

      • Brian M says:

        @Angry Zebra,

        before giving up on Java, maybe wait for Oracle to say something.

        Apple saw the problems of their java maintenance, it was always almost a version behind which caused problems. If Oracle can be convinced to do it with the Windows/Unix versions, it should improve java in Mac OS X.

        As far as optical drives… they fail in all computers. Most computer owners (at least that get their PC’s repaired in our shop) use them so rarely, they may not have realized they even failed until they try to re-install windows, or we find it has failed when they bring their system in, or when a program install doesn’t work from CD.
        So far I’ve been lucky that my optical in my Mac Pro hasn’t failed, and my wife’s iMac optical hasn’t failed, both over 3 years old. My brother-in-law will be going onto his 3rd shortly in the same time frame.

        Really no idea why 720p video is stuttering on your year old Mini, try a different player or codec maybe?
        All dual-core mini’s I’ve tried 1080p video has no issues (barring really bad encodes, which I have seen that wouldn’t play even close to smoothly on my Mac Pro either)

        Have you tested the external drive with another system? Also might be interesting to find what is causing the permissions changes on your Java, LaunchD and Apache2 files, since that is not standard behaviour.

        • Angry zebra says:

          @Brian M,

          I don’t develop in java, but i have friends that do. I personally don’t have much faith in java development at Oracle given their emphasis on enterprise level tools. Given their about face on Open Solaris, I won’t hold my breath waiting for them to keep java in synch on a platform that has near zero enterprise support.

          My mini had the optical drive fail within 6 months. I think i ripped about a dozen CDs with it. Is that normal behavior for most hardware? Apple replaced it, but now I’m out of warranty so if it goes again, I will need to get an external or have it replaced again at expense. Neither proposition is attractice given the CD playee in my car has lasted 8 years without a hiccup.

          Yes, I’ve tried QuickTime, QuickTime 7, VLC, Miro, and movist without much difference. I have found the .9 version of plex to have similar issues.

          The external drive has no issues on my 2008 MBP. I neglected to mention that had to have its motherboard replaced twice this spring. Thank goodness i shelled out for AppleCare on it.

          I just don’t see much reason to go with apple nowadays. The only reason for me to keep buying apple hardware’s OSX and Lion to date doesn’t seem very interesting. I know it is early, but i do remember Steve saying he’d milk the Mac for as long as he could before moving on to the next thing. It is pretty clear to me that that new thing is iOS. I think that is the reason Apple doesn’t pay much attention to anything else at this point.

          Sadly, apple is still ahead of Linux and windows in my opinion, but i don’t think it would take much to get me to upgrade from vista to 7.

          • Brian M says:

            @Angry zebra,

            I do agree it will have to be a matter of waiting to see what Oracle does with the Sun products.

            the CD drive in your car is a pretty small sample, and a simpler device than the computer optical drives (2 lasers, plus burning abilities)
            Personally I’ve had more car CD player failures than I have had computer optical drive failures. (2 different cars had theirs fail, one after about 5 years, the other after about 2, My old G4 tower replaced in 2007 had one optical drive failure at around the 3 year mark)
            Doing Mac warranty (and out of warranty) work, I have not replaced many Mac mini optical drives, I see it more commonly in MacBooks. (Most common failures of MacBooks would be hard drives – at least through the shop I work in) For reliability of optical drives, usage doesn’t seem to be much of a factor, some people use them heavily, and for them it tends to be the burning part that fails while it still reads fine. For other people they may barely use the drive and it fails accepting discs entirely.

            Very strange with the 720p video issue, what generated the video? (I’ve run iMovie exports, trailers, HD stock footage, youtube, plus various downloads of .avi (HD) and .mkv through Mac mini’s hooked up to an HDTV)

            The only fault with claims of Apple ignoring the Mac, is the margins. iOS devices do not have high margins compared with the Mac sales (especially the higher end MBP & MacPro) While the numbers may be small compared with iOS, it makes the overall margins of the company higher. So they get large marketshare with iPod/iOS – which would normally require small margins, but the Mac division helps keep the margin up making the company a good investment.

            I do agree Windows 7 is a good system, and anyone running Vista would be highly recommended to upgrade. (Honestly, given a choice of windows versions, I would only use 7, it has fixed many of the things that annoyed me about XP & earlier, still not enough to switch away from Mac OS X, but it is a big improvement over earlier Windows)

        • Walt French says:

          @Brian M, as you anticipated, the Oracle has spoken about its VM plans. While I didn’t hear explicit comments about Apple, it’s clear that they’re planning on adding value (“getting paid”) by continued support for java.

          Apple and Oracle might have coordinated their announcements a bit more tightly given the itchy trigger fingers of the commentariat, and the fact that many people’s livelihoods depend on this ever-changing framework, but it looks all very sensible and maybe even predictable along the patterns of other technologies.

      • Dave says:

        I work on a small project that has purchased probably around 50 Apple XServe/XRAID products over the course of the last ten years. At the same time I have 5 or 6 macs in my home, as well as numerous iphones, ipods etc. I own over $35K worth of Apple stock on a $4K investment. I get Apple. However, it is really alarming to see Apple slowly stepping away from the enterprise. I think I understand a bit why Apple thinks they must move this way. I suggest that they do NOT need to be abandoning these other “hobbies,” but rather spin them into separated business units that must be profitable but do not sap any life from Apple’s talents, culture, consumer-oriented core and valuable brand.

        Apple abandonment of these less-popular technologies is simply a product of their culture of extreme competence and success. It is indicative of a company that stands out because their value is wrapped up in talented people (individuals and small teams) rather than generally sustainable processes or products that can just simply be supported by substituting one engineer/engineering team to another. I support this. A “mature” rigid process and “warm body” approach is what makes other companies and their products so mediocre (and the thorn in the side of open source development). Apple does not have second or third tier products or extra teams sitting around that can move these products along.

        Apple should figure out how to preserve their consumer brand and core culture and at the same time sustain and improve some of these fringe products and branch growth areas. I suggest that Apple continue to preserve and protect their top tier products and teams and create a second tier of businesses to bring other fringe products along. These teams have the goal of making their teams and products first tier – if they cannot eventually then they are out. This is really no different than apple buying up other small companies, except apple is starting these outside small companies themselves – then deciding at some point if these small companies should survive – their own VC approach to business growth. Apple has the money to do this and to be patient about it. This could serve to introduce new enterprise support and other initiatives within Apple without diluting the extreme talent in the consumer space. Somethings gotta give. Apple cannot just keep moving along with and sequentializing product line growth and innovation through the small pool of talent that they already have. In short, Apple can monetarily afford to be patient with their “hobbies,” without diluting their core business.

        Dave B.

        • @Dave, Unfortunately, it’s probably true that sales of the Xserve were exceedingly small over the years, despite loyal customers. An estimate back in 2004, for example, listed some 13,000 units sold during a single quarter, and it’s not clear that sales ever rose much above that figure. So far as Apple is concerned, it’s a pittance. The Mac mini server is supposedly far more popular, despite the lack of redundancy in the design. A Mac Pro would also be a poor substitute for those who require traditional rack-mounted hardware and easy “live” component replacement.

          That said, Apple’s agreement with Unisys indicates that the enterprise is in their targets; just not server sales.

          Peace,
          Gene

    2. Blad_Rnr says:

      Add Xserve to the list. They just announced they are going to stop selling Xserves in January.

      http://www.apple.com/xserve/resources.html

      What gives? I was planning on upgrading all of our Apple Xserves in in Q1. Mac Pros take up too much room in server racks. I do not understand that solution. Even if Xserves are losing money, it has to be a drop in the bucket compared to $60B in cash. Why not continue them just to satisfy businesses who rely on them? I am not taking a chance on a Mac mini server, and I can’t attach a Promise RAID to it! C’mon Apple! That’s just dumb. No way you will ever make a dent in the Enterprise if you don’t have a rack mount server. You want us switching to Dell and running Windows Server? Ugh.

      Dumb, dumb, dumb decision.

      • Brian M says:

        @Blad_Rnr,

        I agree, things like this could reverse decisions to go with things like the iPad

      • Richard says:

        @Blad_Rnr,

        This is a prime example of a situation which Apple should have been out front of if they have a plan for something else. If there is no something else, this could be a major blow to Apple’s efforts in the educational and scientific community, not to mention freezing the market for any prospective enterprise customers. What a shame if Apple is to become just a gadget company. I know gadgets are profitable, but dropping the X serveis very ominous sounding.

        Maybe Apple has something up their sleeve, but leaving an entire market segment in the dark like this is certainly not one of Steve’s better moves.

      • tom b says:

        @Blad_Rnr, They MUST be delayed in releasing an upgraded rack server. It strikes me as really dumb to exit the growing rack mounted server market just as more Apple products are flowing into Enterprise (get them hooked on the iPhone; next thing you know, they will be wondering why they still use Windows in the 21st century).

        • @tom b, All Apple has to do is add newer processors. The fact is that the things weren’t selling well enough, so they were discontinued. End of story.

          Peace,
          Gene

          • Richard says:

            @Gene Steinberg,

            Surely you jest. Just write off several entire market segments?

            If you are correct, Apple will be exiting the enterprise market entirely, soon to be followed by the education market.

            The Mac Minis certainly have their place, but only as a part of a solution. If there is not solution, there are PC manufacturers who can competitively market something close enough to the Mini to do when it is a part of an entire solution.

            What Apple have never been very good at is listening to their business customers and responding with the products they need. Evidently they may have tired of pretending to care.

            • I didn’t suggest they are exiting the enterprise. It’s clear the reverse is true. But the Xserve clearly wasn’t successful enough to justify its continuance.

              Peace,
              Gene

              • tom b says:

                @Gene Steinberg, I would not presume to play back seat driver to Steve Jobs, who is the best CEO/visionary out there, in my book, but I am puzzled they didn’t think there was a market for rack mounted servers. I have 6 units in my office (LINUX-based, but I’m not the server guy and didn’t pick them). My point is, I don’t think that’s a dead market segment. If Apple isn’t selling a bunch– maybe they should ask “why not?” instead of throwing up their hands.

                • @tom b, The fact is that Linux servers own the market, and Windows perennially brings up the rear. Web hosts, which you might regard as highly suitable candidates for racks and racks of Xserves, offer them only rarely. Go Daddy provides Mac-based cloud servers, I’ve seen Xserves advertised at a Canadian host, iWeb, but they’re few and far between otherwise.

                  Apple just isn’t competing with such powerhouses as Dell, HP, or SuperMicro.

                  As you say, you have six Linux boxes in your office. Management didn’t consider Xserve.

                  Peace,
                  Gene

              • Richard says:

                @Gene Steinberg,

                That may or may not be, Gene, but the result is still the same. Without an announcement of their plans, Apple have frozen their own market prospects in a way that no competitor could. Not a smart marketing move in my view.

    3. Reality Check says:

      “For Apple, it’s all Cocoa all the time, which is Mac OS X’s native development environment, although many apps, including ones from Adobe and Microsoft, still use the less flexible Carbon technology instead.”

      Please tell me you wouldn’t deliberately exclude Final Cut Pro from the list of apps still based on the “less flexible” Carbon framework. That is, unlike Adobe’s Premiere Pro CS5 which is written in 64-bit Cocoa (and After Effects and Photoshop). If you did exclude FCP deliberately, I might be lead to believe you weren’t telling the truth about what is actually available for the Mac platform. If you excluded FCP inadvertently, it would be apparent that you simply don’t know the truth.

      • Brian M says:

        @Reality Check,

        Final Cut Pro is heavily dependant on Quicktime, until Quicktime X is ready to handle everything FCP needs in full cocoa 64-bitness, FCP itself can’t be done.

        Ars Technica did a write-up on this

        To quote the article:

        “As anxious as developers may be for a full-featured, 64-bit successor to the QuickTime 7 engine, Apple itself is sitting on top of one of the largest QuickTime-riddled (and Carbon-addled, to boot) code bases in the industry: Final Cut Studio. Thus far, It remains stuck in 32-bit. To say that Apple is “highly motivated” to extend the capabilities of QuickTime X would be an understatement.”

        http://arstechnica.com/apple/reviews/2009/08/mac-os-x-10-6.ars

    4. Peter says:

      Being vindictive isn’t part of Apple’s DNA […]

      Thanks for the morning laugh…

    5. Walt French says:

      @Angry Zebra, if you read the news, you’ll see that other platforms are ALSO moving on from older technologies.

      All are different, of course, but just this week the Handwriting went up on The Wall about the future of Silverlight. Microsoft faces the same economic realities that Adobe faces: it is VERY EXPENSIVE to support proprietary technology as plug-ins on a myriad of platforms — there are at least a dozen important ones now, what with mobile being so important. Adobe is recycling its 2008 and 2009 lies to its developers about the rosy future for Flash on Mobile. In contrast, the latest figures show Androids at 19% of smartphones in use, and Froyo at 36% of Android, i.e., Flash is capable of running on about 7% of today’s smartphones, and a large number of those have it turned off for performance or nuisance reasons. Silverlight is currently at 0.0% of smartphones. There is no way they can support the technology on competitors’ phones — especially if WinPhone7 loses as much money as I imagine it will, at least initially — and so no way that it can become an advantage for MS as a development tool.

      That’s for technologies that the firms stand to profit from. Java is third-party, only a minor expense and support hassle. That is, only minor until Oracle started making noises about not embedding various java technology in mobiles, so it’s now a liability, to boot. Merging the iOS and MacOSX development models is impossible with Apple providing proprietary java. For that matter, if java is so valuable as write once, execute anywhere, the fact that Apple was typically a version behind suggests that developers favored the overall Mac environment, and a sanctioned, lockstep java will be an even better deal.

      PS: That Mac hardware is still sweet for most of us and OSX is still a nice personal/development environment.

      • tom b says:

        @Walt French, I was shocked to see MSFT back-burnering Silverlight. It’s the correct decision technically-speaking– Flash and Flash-like buggy, insecure, high CPU-usage API’s are on the way out as the web moves more towards mobile access–but MSFT is usually really, REALLY slow on the uptake. They haven’t even moved their OS to UNIX yet, though, to be sure Win 7–legacy-based as it is– is much more stable than XP was, like OS 9 was big step up from any version of OS 7.x.

    6. Louis Wheeler says:

      You know, Gene, Apple may be seeing some developments that we don’t and is targeting for them.

      Five years from now, 75% of Apple sales will likely be iOS type computers (iPhone / IPod / IPad plus devices waiting to be introduced). If Apple is planning for the iPad to take over then many current users will be giving up their desktop computers.

      The technology is changing sufficiently that distributed processing will take over; the computer will be unrecognizable in five years. You will have a bunch of input and output devices while the processing, storage and routing units will be hidden away. The Computer-in-a-Chip is getting cheap and powerful enough that stand alone devices, run by Linux, are the way to go. Apple cannot compete with that. This is why it is getting out of the XServe market. New servers based on Computer-in-a-Chip designs are coming. This will not be an area where Apple can shine.

      The MacBook Air seems to be the direction that Notebook computers will be going. That leaves questions about Apple’s creative or Professional computers.

      I don’t believe that Apple’s professional computers in Graphics, Design and Creative areas will be in Jeopardy; they will merely become a tiny percentage of Apple’s sales. Steve Job’s Truck / Car analogy applies here; Apple will not be getting rid of Creative Computers (Trucks) no matter how tiny a percentage of their business they will become compared to Consumption computers (Cars).

      Apple is expecting that the computing market will increase and that they will get a huge portion of that, world wide. These changes are mostly driven by technology, but “ease of use” matters. And “ease of use” is Apple’s forte. The next five years will turn the computer market upside down. Apple is placing bets that they will come out on top. Microsoft looks like the big loser here.

      • David says:

        @Louis Wheeler, I don’t believe the desktop computer will disappear any time soon. It will always be in Apple’s best interest to have content created on Macs so their devices will be the best for consuming that content. I also believe that anyone who creates a significant amount of anything, even if it’s nothing more than text documents, appreciates the value of large displays and input devices designed primarily for the task. At work I’d be far less efficient if I didn’t have two displays (or one enormous one).

        To me the future lies in the combination of a powerful desktop unit for content creation that also acts as a file server for a home filled with smart phones, tablets and ultralight notebooks. For others the need for a powerful yet portable device will keep the MBP lineup going strong into the future.

        • Brian M says:

          @David,

          completely agree with the 2+ displays. One smaller one for more status info like email. One larger display to work on. I have a similar setup at work, and at home.

          an iPad would be handy as well for some of the work I do, especially when not in the shop for loading the technical manuals… maybe next year 😉

      • Brian M says:

        @Louis Wheeler,

        I don’t think it will be nearly that quick.

        While I do use my iPhone for portable computing instead of buying a MacBook (after the contract is included the total cost was about the same) Many users find they still do enough things that require a full computer. It is true that some users are just consumers, and existing smart phones & tablets can do what they need efficiently enough. I really do think it will take longer than 5 years for touch interface (and other interfaces potentially beyond that) and the necessary bandwidth to enough people, to really move things away from current computer technology. A very small percentage of users already work this way, it will be a gradual increase as the years go by, just like internet usage has.

        “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” really does generally hold. Sure there have been some revolutions – Industrial, Mass Media, Computer, Internet.
        but beyond the general, things tend to change devices, but not the overall principal. (Mass Media has gone through how many mediums in the past 90 years?)

        • Louis Wheeler says:

          @Brian M,

          Who knows how quick the change will be? The future has this habit of sneaking up on you. Suddenly, we look up and ask, “:When did that happen?” It is happening right now.

          A lot of hardware changes are coming which everyone must adjust to; the major change will be that every electronic device and peripheral will get its own computer chips inside. Stand alone devices will explode in numbers. Add enough of them together and you have a computer. The struggle will be in getting these devices to work well together.

          The continuing poor economy is forcing many companies to focus on their strengths, including Apple. Apple will mostly become a Consumption Computer company, although it won’t give up its professional hardware. It’s just that its Professional and Consumption businesses are diverging. It not strictly about touch screens, either. Apple’s image will be like Sony; it will be an entertainment electronic company, which also makes computers.

          Apple needed its server line when it was struggling. It was a way of maintaining Apple shops against the onslaught of Wintel computers. Apple is on a roll while the PC is in relative decline. Like Apple did with its Raid unit, it is out sourcing its server hardware to other companies. There is no reason that Apple computers and Linux servers can’t get along.

          • Richard says:

            @Louis Wheeler,

            The important point, I think, is for Apple to be able to provide “turn key”, “one stop”, integrated solutions or whatever one wishes to call providing for the customer’s needs in the education and enterprise environment. It is one thing for a small shop to use an iMac for POS, inventory and so on, but quite another once things get a bit larger. In that environment I believe that it is essential to keep the customer base informed of the company’s plans. It is one thing for Steve to play hide-the-ball on consumer devices and quite another to do that to a customer whose job is dependent up keeping the boss or whomever happy today and comfortable that they are not going down a dead end street.

            One of the funny things about the future is that you do not know what you do not know. As you observe, there are things that happen which surprise everyone.

    7. ZooCrew says:

      Who cares let them dump Java. If we listened to everyone that complained when Apple began the change to OS X we would still be stuck with OS 9. Keep it rolling forward and those who want to be stuck in the past more power to them. Let them stay….

    8. Andrew says:

      I practice in 9th circuit appellate court and they use a JAVA app for electronic case filing. They have both Mac and Windows versions of the application, and hopefully, the Mac remains a viable platform on that system.

      Of course, for something that I do perhaps four or five times per month, running it in a VM (as I used to before the Mac was supported) isn’t that big of a deal.

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