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Handhelds Software Hardware Linux

Second Prototype of the $200 Open Source Tablet 259

Posted by Soulskill
from the bringing-the-tubes-to-every-coffee-table dept.
holy_calamity writes "TechCrunch blogger Mike Arrington decided last year to invent a new class of low-cost internet tablet using open source hardware and software. The second prototype has been unveiled, sporting a 12-inch touchscreen powered by a Via Nano processor, 1 GB of ram and a 4 GB flash drive. It runs a browser and nothing else on top of a custom Linux build. 'Resolution is 1024×768, which means the vast majority of websites are viewed in full width without scrolling. The device also has wifi, an accelerometer (so when you turn the screen on its side you can view more of a web page), a camera and a four cell battery.'"
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Second Prototype of the $200 Open Source Tablet

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  • Its VIA! (Score:2, Informative)

    by ErroneousBee (611028)

    So its going to look great on paper, and will be fine for the first hour, but sooner or later the thing will lock solid because Via have cut some corners in the drivers or not fully implemented a standard.

    Previous owner of a kt133 (usb lockups), current owner of a CN400 (video lockups).

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by aliquis (678370)

      I have no idea if current stuff is as crappy as you say buy yes I had to run my KT400 board at 100 MHz FSB instead of 133 since it locked up all the time if I didn't.

      May also have worked like crap in Solaris, or if that was my MSI board (which is K8T800 in any case ..)

      All crap =P

    • by metamatic (202216)

      My VIA M10000 system has been solid as a rock. Uptimes in months, even when pushed to the limit with 20+ BitTorrent sessions.

    • by iamhassi (659463)
      "So its going to look great on paper..."

      It does? Doesn't look that great to me. First they brag about using "very low end hardware" then throw out a $299 price tag: "(we were aiming for $200, it looks like $299 is more realistic)."

      3 years ago $299 for a internet only tablet would be great, but this is 2009. For $299 I can buy a brand new Acer Aspire One netbook [newegg.com]. Not a tablet, but it has all the conveniences of modern laptops and it supports all browsers and plug-ins and future updates.

      If you must
  • by Eunuchswear (210685) on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:18AM (#26515255) Journal

    Because the device skips the resource-sucking parts of the operating system and focuses on one application - the browser

    skips resource-sucking parts of the operating system and focuses on the browser?

    skips resource-sucking parts of the operating system and focuses on the browser?

    skips resource-sucking parts of the operating system and focuses on the browser?

    What alternate reality is this guy writing from!

    • by jellomizer (103300) on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:36AM (#26515419)

      The point of the design is to give as much resources to the browser as possible. And allow a small system to run a Fat Browser well.

      Tablets are rather useless without internet and a web browser. The hardware is too under powered for games, or heavy computing. The UI makes it difficult to type or the random letter generator called handwriting recognition. It is only good for apps which are mostly point and click and type in a few words and point and click again.

      Most of those apps are now web based or going to be so soon. So allowing a Fat Browser to run smoothly is important, and should be a focus.

      Part of Apples success with the iPhone is that it can run a Fat Browser like Safari, which has the modern standards built in. Vs. others who have a reduced browser which makes it useful for work only on an elementary level web applications, which are normally hard to use and slow. So Yes I would say "skips resource-sucking parts of the operating system and focuses on the browser".

      Makeing a real product that is useful is different then those thought exercise in Computer Science. Modern business needs and user requirements conflict with intellectual purity.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        So Yes I would say "skips resource-sucking parts of the operating system and focuses on the browser". Makeing a real product that is useful is different then those thought exercise in Computer Science. Modern business needs and user requirements conflict with intellectual purity.

        I wonder if any of us in computer science, with our bastions of "intellectual purity", could possibly address a business problem such as this -- how can we keep only those parts of an OS that are required for specific tasks and still be intellectually pure [wikipedia.org] and stable too [wikipedia.org]??

        I agree with the principle of what you're saying, but concluding with a silly troll about computer science makes you seem like someone who flunked his OS class.

        • No I got A's in my CS classes. However after going to the business world I found many of these rules were for either Old Single Processor systems with very limited memory. Or high end systems that run so fast that Big O is the only speed we care of. But I have seen a lot of bad code the follows all the rules to a point where it losses it usefulness, as it has became "too organized" to a point it lost flexibility and readability. I have seen other code that seems to break all the rules but somehow it is rath

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            But I have seen a lot of bad code the follows all the rules to a point where it losses it usefulness, as it has became "too organized" to a point it lost flexibility and readability. I have seen other code that seems to break all the rules but somehow it is rather easy to maintain, and quite workable and performs well and fast.

            You seem to be referring to software engineering, not computer science. There is a LOT more to computer science than "data layers" and "UI layers" and "best practices", which belong to the realm of -- you guessed it -- software engineering. There are no "rules" in computer science, just theorems that get translated into (hopefully) better/more efficient algorithms.

      • by b4upoo (166390)

        The only important part is that it doesn't generate a phone bill and it downloads porn at lightening fast speeds. All else i trivial.

        • by Fred_A (10934)

          The only important part is that it doesn't generate a phone bill and it downloads porn at lightening fast speeds. All else i trivial.

          But browsers aren't very convenient to connect to Usenet...

      • by bishiraver (707931) on Monday January 19, 2009 @12:08PM (#26516565) Homepage

        I would rather have a low-cost art tablet (drawing surface with an LCD screen) than a low-cost web browsing tablet.

        Current LCD screen tablets are over $1500, which weirds me out because my freakin' 24" widescreen LCD was only $500. Stylus technology (most use passive induction) can't be THAT expensive can it?

        I would love it if someone came out with a $200 1024x768 thin digital sketch pad. Put all its computing into running GIMP (or better yet, photoshop) or Inkscape, make it able to plug in directly to my desktop to download my images from it (or use it indirectly as a tablet for my PC).

        That's something I'd easily drop $500 on. Easily.

        • by Svartalf (2997)

          Heh... I do believe that you could re-purpose it for that. Not terribly hard since they're using a stripped down Linux (Think Angstrom...) with just the browser as largely it's sole functionality.

    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      Don't forget handwriting recognition; that's a pretty suckful resource. Well, if the tech they're using is any damned good, which frankly it probably isn't.

    • by Sentry21 (8183)

      Maybe the thing boots into WebKit instead of Gecko.

  • by vidarh (309115) <vidar@hokstad.com> on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:18AM (#26515257) Homepage Journal
    I worked on a similar product [linuxdevices.com] ten years ago (it was covered on Slashdot twice in '99 or '00) which unfortunately stranded because of perpetual delays (I left at the end of '99) and lack of commitment from distributors and customers, and several rounds of re-engineering everything.

    Today it should be a lot easier, given that they can rely on much cheaper off the shelf components and don't have to squeeze everything into minimal amounts of RAM and flash (for the first version we were working with Opera to get it running with a custom GUI in 16MB or 32MB of RAM total, and about the same amount of flash)...

    Hope they make it - I want one.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lumpy (12016)

      QNX + opera would have worked nicely in that small of footprint. I had one demoed to the company I was working for in 2 weeks from a mock up of OTS parts I got online. the prototype works solid for 2 years, I used it daily in meetings.

      I'm betting your ex company screwed up based on internal mismanagement more than anything else. That's where my project ended. The managers that loved it, refused to make decisions and it died 6 months later when upper management pulled the plug due to lack of progress. M

  • Nothing else? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Thanshin (1188877) on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:20AM (#26515269)

    Excuse me if this is a stupid question, I've not played with such toys.

    It runs a browser and nothing else on top of a custom Linux build.

    When it ways "and nothing else" does it mean "nothing else except the linux build, fully featured and usable to do whatever you need including changing the browser, upgrading using the toy to read documents in whatever format you download readers for, etc."?

  • I'm not (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mikesd81 (518581) <`mikesd1' `at' `verizon.net'> on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:23AM (#26515299) Homepage
    not going to pay $300 for a device just to surf the web. But it's a cool piece of equipment. I see it's running a full installation of Ubuntu. That's cool. I'd like to be able to open an ssh client and use the on-screen keyboard and maybe a notepad of some sort. It doesn't have to be a full blown computer, but something other than just surfing the web should be included. Imagine the business use of this type of open source hardware and software device. Add some kind of notepad software you can write notes quick and immediately send it out to another device/computer. I can't see many people just buying it for a web browser when notebooks are so readily available that can use email client software, not just web mail. And have other usable apps. Remember the web devices that were around in the past? There used to a white one that Staples sold, I don't remember the name, but they didn't hit off to well.
    • You're not (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Sepodati (746220) on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:40AM (#26515459) Homepage

      the audience this is designed for then. Seriously, go get a laptop.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      not going to pay $300 for a device just to surf the web.

      But a lot of other people will, and have.

      I agree though, the price point for this is $100-200.

    • by mrvan (973822)

      TFA says it's running a full ubuntu install, so I'm sure you can get evolution and a pdf viewer running

      Another use case would be uploading pictures etc to a shared drive via USB and SD slot

      If you can create a nice looking charger/docking station, this would be great in the living room as a browser, picture station, and remote control for a mythtv installation; the price seems to be about the same as those fancy remote controls that they sell and being able to browse in the living room without interrupting t

    • by $1uck (710826)
      "Add some kind of notepad software you can write notes quick and immediately send it out to another device/computer." Um... if thats what you want, write a web app to do this (hell there probably already is one). Provided it has the proper support for user input, this could be a really good mobile thin client. A custom browser than knows when you select the text input field it should pop up a box that interprets your handwriting and translates it. oh yeah and cloud computing... just for the added 2.0 ef
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      From TFA:
      The software: currently weâ(TM)re running a full install of Ubuntu Linux on the prototype with a custom Webkit browser.
      Maybe they'll cut it down later, but I don't see why they should. They probably don't boot Gnome or any services, but it should be able to run random executables.

      I wonder if they have tried to incorporate the setup from the 5 second boot project.

    • I would love a device like this with pen input, so I can use it to take notes in class.

      Notebook computers are great for textual classes, because I can type like a demon.

      But much of my engineering curriculum is math, and keyboards don't lend themselves well to that.

      I would ABSOLUTELY JUMP for a $300 tablet computer that let me write on it like digital notebook paper.

      I paid about this much for my first engineering calculator (HP32S).

      • by ckaminski (82854)
        I used a demo unit of an IBM X61 tablet for my math classes in '07. I absolutely loved the ability to draw symbols and formulas, and then cut and paste into larger documents I used to help explain the work to myself.

        Even in my English class I used it - the pen is much quieter than the fools blasting away on their keyboards. All I needed was a small printer so I could turn in assignments at the end of class...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JPierce924 (1456431)
      I agree, I may not pay $300 but I would for sure pay $200. The thing that makes this web browsing portable device different than the others is timing. With the birth of Web 2.0 and Cloud Apps this becomes an essential tool. Why use notepad when you could Google Docs, Zoho, etc... The top two places I could see this taking off is in schools and in the average Joe's kitchen. I am jsy starting my blog on Cloud Computing and devices just like this. I will post more later when I have time. There is a nee
    • back when $300 was £150 i would have picked this up for lectures in a second but now its £200 ill probably give this a miss. I do however think this is very useful devices as its almost impossible to find a cheap tablet, im yet to find anything for less than about £700 ($1000).

      Hell if the ARM chipset gives it a longer battery life than i normal laptop id defiantly get one and drop my POS acer for a usb keyboard and mouse.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by slazzy (864185)
      I'd love to have one of these for the kitchen to look up recipes, link up to calendar from my other computers, and maybe be able to control music throughout the house as well. I see a lot of uses for it. Screen saver could show pictures making it like a digital picture frame when not being used otherwise.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by phulegart (997083)

      So... what is it you want to do with this type of device that you don't want to SAY you want to do?

      I mean, because you could easily log into your Yahoo account with this thing, and flip over to the Notes section, and do whatever it is you wanted to do with Notepad.

      Oh... you wanted to do some web design? Well, go ahead and use the WYSIWYG editor through your sites CPanel.

      Oh... you wanted to be a Purist... ah. Elitism. I get it. Well, then just purchase yourself a full fledged computer.

      You are probably ri

  • Is it just me or does this look at lot like a TV Tray [youtube.com]?

  • by Bromskloss (750445) <auxiliary.addres ... .14159il.com min> on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:27AM (#26515333)

    an accelerometer (so when you turn the screen on its side you can view more of a web page)

    I need a larger screen too. Must get myself one of them accelerometers.

  • hm, not sure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:27AM (#26515337) Homepage Journal

    While it does look interesting, I do wonder whether the core idea, that a browser is enough, really is solid. I knew it was Netscape's dream once, but did it work out?

    When I think about what I do, certainly Firefox gets a lot of time. However, there's a lot of PDF content out there that I want to view and/or print - does this device do that? That's not an unusual usage scenario, btw. - when you book online tickets, or buy stuff online, very often you get the ticket and/or receipt in .pdf format.
    Then there's the whole "download" scenario. Does it do that? Lots of people come across cool stuff they want to download. It doesn't have to launch Keynote, sorry OpenOffice or whatever the external App is, but at least ''saving'' something to an external shared device would be a requirement.
    Then there's mail. There are still people around who don't use webmail, you know?

    So, I quite like the idea, but I do wonder whether '''just''' the browser isn't a little too little.

    • by Nicolay77 (258497)

      Well, the people at Google seem to believe that the browser is really enough.

      I'm not saying they are right, or wrong, just that people in a big company believe it.

      • by Tom (822)

        Apparently not. Google does create quite a bit of standalone software that you can download.

        Google Earth
        Sketchup
        Picasa

        just to name a few.

        So even Google seems to think that for some things, the browser alone isn't enough.

    • by cp.tar (871488)

      Well, Google is kind enough to let me view PDF files... at least those I get in my e-mails. Haven't tried any others.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rogerborg (306625)

      I imagine that their marketing budget will have to dwarf their development budget, since they'll have to create a new market segment.

      First problem: how do you sum it up in a short, punchy marketdroid phrase, without making it sound like it's either a overly weedy laptop, or an overly expensive toy?

      Second problem: having boasted about how it's a "$200" device, how do you then get early adopters (us!) to pay more than that for it? Or if it has to retail for $200 from day 1, how do you persuade retailers

    • It is called browser plugin.

      Awesome stuff man, really awesome and cutting edge.

    • by Sentry21 (8183)

      That's the basic concept behind most 'netbooks'. You get local storage for your OS, a keyboard, a display, and an internet connection. Seems like extending it to a tablet wouldn't be too far off. Especially if they can use the tech in WebKit designed for this exact thing (for the iPhone).

      Could be interesting.

  • ur doing it wrong (Score:5, Interesting)

    by savuporo (658486) on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:28AM (#26515355)

    Why go with X86 if you want low BOM cost ? Any ARM/MIPS/PowerPC SoC with decent Mhz will do it better for lower bill of materials. Try TI OMAP35xx line for instance, one with Cortex ARM and PowerVR graphics all in one chip. Works out way cheaper than anything x86-based. Getting a Beagleboard [beagleboard.org] is a good way to start.
    And now with Canonical throwing official support for ARM-based Ubuntu, you have got your opsys covered as well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ritchie70 (860516)

      The reason (imho) for x86 is compatibility and ease of development.

      The dominant platform in the world for web browsers is x86, be it Windows, Linux or Macintosh.

      That means that your best odds for getting a plug-in or similar (or at least one that is current and supported) is x86. And that's true for your end users, too.

      I understand that you could build open source stuff yourself for that architecture, but ARM is weird. You will probably have issues and have to figure them out yourself. It's a much bigger de

    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      Why go with X86 if you want low BOM cost ? Any ARM/MIPS/PowerPC SoC with decent Mhz will do it better for lower bill of materials. Try TI OMAP35xx line for instance, one with Cortex ARM and PowerVR graphics all in one chip. Works out way cheaper than anything x86-based. Getting a Beagleboard is a good way to start.
      And now with Canonical throwing official support for ARM-based Ubuntu, you have got your opsys covered as well.

      Yeah, and make sure your UWD is 3SC5F over the KLKO9 link (utilizing M3iQ of course!)

  • Why x86? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kegetys (659066) on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:30AM (#26515365) Homepage

    What reasons are there to put an x86 processor in a device like this? The Nano is not exactly low power, with an ARM based solution (Nvidia Tegra would seem pretty great for this for example) you could have many days of standby power without needing to reboot it all the time. Only reason for x86 I can think of is that it could run Windows, but is that really needed for this type of device?

    • by savuporo (658486)

      Well windows runs on ARM as well .. at least in my HTC it does.

      • by Kegetys (659066)

        Windows CE, yes. I was thinking "Windows" as in desktop PC Windows (xp/vista) that is able to run your normal Windows desktop applications (Windows CE requires Windows CE applications)

    • by coldmist (154493)

      Flash.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by loudmax (243935)

        Flash.

        Dead on. Flash is a huge part of the web nowadays. Nearly all of the big video sites deliver their content using Flash. There's also Flash-based games, and when the devs have no idea what they're doing, even navigation.

        Flash is the only piece of proprietary hardware on my Aspire One netbook. Without it, that thing wouldn't need x86 either. Hopefully gnash [gnu.org] will soon become good enough to replace Flash entirely. In the meantime, better Flash than Silverlight.

  • by mollymoo (202721) on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:39AM (#26515447) Journal

    I'm just utterly amazed it's taken this long for somebody to have a serious stab at a device like this. I've been asking for one for years. I got a Nokia Internet Tablet, but it's just too small. When Asus brought out the Eee and then everybody copied them within months I though they'd get the hint a build web tablets with the same kind of kit. But they haven't. Weird. This is exactly the kind of thing I want for browsing the web around the house and they will sell even faster than netbooks have, just as soon as somebody vaguely credible brings a reasonable quality one to market.

    As to all the people wondering what else it will be able to do other than run a browser: It's an x86 box running Linux. It'll do whatever the hell you want it to do. Yes to PDFs, yes to ssh, yes to media player, yes to OpenOffice, yes to IM, yes to blowjobs on the beach, yes to absofuckinglutely everything you can do on any other Linux box. It's just a keyboard-less tablet netbook (not that that's not awesome).

    (I lied about the blowjobs)

  • I use Lego rather than Duplo. Compatibility with my existing devices may be a problem.

    [Insert distro "build" pun here]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:45AM (#26515515)

    the article [techcrunch.com] says

    (we were aiming for $200, it looks like $299 is more realistic)

    But let me tell you something: the difference between $199 and $299 is worlds. There is no LAPTOP near $199. but $299? You are now competing with full laptops. It is now a luxury item, since it would be like asking someone to buy two laptops - one that does almost nothing except surf the web. DONT MAKE PEOPLE MAKE THAT CHOICE.

    This is what I think you should do:

    • let go of 1gb ram / 4gb flash drive: you don't need that much.
    • Let go of the camera if you have to.
    • Let go of the accelerometer if you have to.
    • Go with wussier batteries.

    Batteries dont matter as much as you think, because it's okay to leave the thing plugged in, like digital picture frames. In fact, that's how I read in bed: with an old LCD monitor connected to the desktop next to me, in my hands, with the power and VGA cables going off to the side. (I scroll with the mouse, in my other hand). I am your real target market. If you need to have a $199 version that has a 1-hour battery do it. If you can't, do it without a battery, so it only works while plugged in (like a digital picture frame). Do whatever it takes. You need to get this thing down to $199, no matter what.

    I can spend that much for it just to read my bookz (scanned books from the net) - it's the price of 10 hardcover books. But $299 and I can't justify it.

    And you don't need RAM. You need video RAM. I know, because I use a 500 mhz desktop with 128 MB of RAM all day - with a video card that has more RAM than it does. Flawless web use - flawless youtube etc. I'm waiting to upgrade until I drop about $2000, which I'm not doing in this economy. Meanwhile I get flawless web use out of this old POS.

    Lower your standards until you can squeeze this thing out for $200. Have a $199 version with a sucky battetry (or none at all if you must), no camera, or accelerometer. And then a $299 version with all that, if you want to.

    Do you want to know what will happen if you price this thing at $299? All your customers will settle on something smaller for $229. [apple.com]

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Barely boots (Score:3, Informative)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Monday January 19, 2009 @10:55AM (#26515681)

    "Barely boots" ... What? What does this mean? Either it boots or it doesn't. It's like being 'a little bit preggers'.

    As for the screen size, you don't want a massive screen on a little tablet PC. I have a 12" tablet right now and other than weight, it's about perfect.

    $300 is an okay price. HP has a $350 8.9" laptop with 1.6Ghz processor. If they can afford to do that for a 'real' laptop, I think $300 is a bit on the high side for a laptop that can only run a web browser.

    Having said that, I paid $1200 for my tablet and felt I got a really good deal at the time. Previous tablets I looked at were in the $2500 range.

  • I worked on a touchscreen system used on airplanes built by Panasonic Avionics and this thing seems years ahead of what their latest hardware was doing... ie: it was a POS compared to what I'm seeing here. On top of that, the Panasonic hardware didn't do much more. It's two big advantages was that it could be updated remotely from a server, (big whoop) and had a Texas Instruments DaVinci chipset in it for handling Video and Audio streaming and could play emulated games (SNES, etc).

    I imagine this thing could

  • If so ill take 2!

    Seriously tho, if they can do this at about 200, i'm sure it will sell well. I do hope they give the option of a card reader for those that want a little more then 4g ( who knows what tomorrow holds...) and not having to use a external USB device.

    If it starts to approach 300, it will have to compete with the big guys and wont survive.

  • but this is *nice*. If they manage the $200 price they'll sell them by the millions.
  • Why would I buy this thing and not and iPod Touch?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by drosboro (1046516)

      Probably for it's (much) bigger screen and (slightly) lower price.

      I have an iPod touch, and I use it mainly for web browsing and other apps. I can't even find my headphones, because it's been so long since I've used them.

      IF they can keep the price of this thing at around $200, it might be a very viable alternative for those of us who want to compute rather than listen.

    • by jc42 (318812)

      Why would I buy this thing and not and iPod Touch?

      Maybe because of the bigger screen with lots more pixels, so you can see more at a time or not need to scroll back and forth so much.

      OTOH, if the amount of stuff on screen isn't that important to you and fitting in your shirt pocket is important, then you wouldn't want this thing at all.

      So which features of the iPod Touch do you rate as important? Make a list, and try to estimate which gadget does each of them better.

      And be prepared for the marketers trying

  • I could see it being handy for some applications like people in warehouse checking the stock, etc.

  • by Beltway Prophet (453247) Works for ThinkGeek on Monday January 19, 2009 @12:39PM (#26516945) Homepage Journal

    Well, I know that by posting this I officially brand myself as a corporate shill, but here's a device that runs Linux, has a touch screen, has an open API, and already exists and can be yours for $239:

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/electronics/digital-photo-frames/b425/ [thinkgeek.com]

    And you can use it as a picture frame out of the box. =)

  • Looks like my next "toy", assuming it really hits the market.

    That looks like the perfect "living room" tablet computer, something to keep handy while watching TV.

  • Seriously it kinda looks like a giant iphone. except a giant iphone would be way sweeter, and probably cheaper since all the development work has already been done.

  • How can this thing not have bluetooth? Bluetooth is incredibly cheap to add and it would open a lot of applications, such as adding a keyboard and tethering to your phone.

    The user could plug a USB bluetooth dongle into a port on the device, but that is much less convenient and it sticks out.

  • ...that the final product is a little less ugly.

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