Category Archives: Recent Activity

MS Assistant Whacks Word Weirdnesses

These days, I make a sizable chunk of my living using Microsoft Word on huge documents with complex stylesheets. As anybody who does this kind of thing regularly knows, Word can get wonky. That is especially true when large drafts with “Track Changes” turned on must pass among multiple parties. That’s why I’m happy to report that one particular MS Assistant whacks Word weirdnesses. I’m talking about the Microsoft Support and Recovery Assistant (SaRA) shown in the lead-in graphic here (About, Download).

Because MS Assistant Whacks Word Weirdnesses, Use It!

In this latest case in point, I’d cut out a mid-sized section of a large (~200 pg) Word document to work on independently. But when I tried to interact with that document fragment, I started seeing a spray of different errors:

  • Document is too large to save; remove some text or graphics
  • Disk is full; save document to a different drive
  • Permissions error; unable to save document

Normally, when there’s something wrong with the document itself, the errors will remain the same. Also, Word itself is pretty good at repairing corrupted or damaged documents. Thus, this ever-changing panoply of errors got me thinking: “Hmmm. Looks like Word is going wonky.”

Enumerating Office Repairs

I remembered a story I wrote for ComputerWorld last August (4 Steps to Repair Microsoft Office). One of them involved the SaRA. Naturally, I ran the tool (thankfully, it always updates itself first if the version being run is not the most current one available). I had it perform its  Office repairs, then tried the previously problematic file fragment I’d been fighting with. Problem solved!

As mechanics sometimes say: “Get the right tool for the job.” In this case, I was glad that SaRA turned out to be that very tool. I was even gladder to get back to work on writing, and exit Word troubleshooting mode. Sigh.

 

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Windows 11 Hints Third-Party Widgets

I confess: I’ve been a fan of Windows gadgets ever since they were introduced in Windows Vista 15 or so years ago (January 30, 2007). I still use them today in Windows 10 and 11, thanks to Helmut Buhler’s excellent 8GadgetPack. Recently, I read intimations that MS would open its Windows 11 Widgets to third parties. I was both intrigued and a little apprehensive to learn that Windows 11 hints third-party widgets. A portion of my Widgets from the Dev Channel build (22523.1000) serves as the lead-in graphic above.

How Windows 11 Hints Third-Party Widgets

As explained in this WindowsLatest story dated January 3, widgets are a little less all-encompassing than gadgets. As Mayank Parmar avers “Windows 11 [widgets] cannot be pinned to the desktop and they appear within the widgets board only.” That said, the same source reports they’ve “seen…documents” that indicate “third-party widgets will be included in Windows 11 version 22H2.”

Because I still use gadgets daily, this information is interesting. Given the right third-party support, it could even be exciting. As you can see to the left, I use gadgets for various purposes, even on Windows 11. For one, they help me keep an eye on system and network activities. For another, they provide an alternative way to shutdown, restart, and so on. And finally, the analog clock on my desktop is easier for me to see and read than the default numeric clock in the taskbar.

If I could get the same functionality from widgets, that would be good. But I also hope MS will provide ways to lock certain widgets on constant display, too. To me, the real benefit of gadgets is that, once parked, they remain visible all the time. For monitoring, time, and system controls this is essential. Note also: the “Control System” gadget (2nd from top) even works in RDP sessions, which normally don’t let you restart or shut down a remotely-connected PC or VM. Very helpful!

I believe opening widgets to third parties in Windows 11 could spur all kinds of interesting functionality and capability. I like the idea of getting such things from the store. But I also hope MS will support locking select widgets on permanent view. Otherwise, I’ll keep using gadgets, too.

We’ll know more as MS releases information to developers to open up widgets to third parties. In the meantime, I’ve got my fingers crossed that somebody will read — and heed — my plea for locked or permanent widgets. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted as this situation unfolds.

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2021 Road Trip Technology Bag Contents

As I reported in my previous post, our family took a Texas-to-Florida road trip from December 18 through 30. It occurs to me readers might be interested in what came along for that ride, technology-wise. Thus, I’ll inventory our 2021 road trip technology bag contents, to show what the Tittel family used to stay in touch while traveling. I’ll also explain — briefly — how we used all that stuff.

Enumerating Road Trip Technology Bag Contents

To begin, I’ll simply list what we carried with us on the road by category and kind:

1. Laptops (2): Lenovo X1 Extreme (8th Gen i7, 32 GB RAM, 1.5 TB NVMe SSDs: 1 + 0.5 TB); Lenovo Yoga 7 14ITL5 (11th Gen i5, 16 GB RAM. 0.5 TB SSD), each with its own power brick and power cord.

2. iPad Air 2: 128GB storage, Wi-Fi + LTE

3. External battery packs: an older freebie (WIMVP 2018) 4,000 mAh, plus a newer RAVPower 26,800 mAh

4. Cable bag with 2xUSB/LIghtning cables for iDevices, 2xUSB A/USB-C cables, 2xUSB A/mini-USB cables for battery chargers, 2x iClever USB-A chargers with dual 2.4A charging ports

The cable bag was a convenience, a $17 ProCase Travel Gadget Organizer bag I purchased in 2020, and it appears as the lead-in graphic for this story. In fact, it proved its worth every day on the road. This organizer made it easy to store (and find) chargers and cables when and as they were needed in the 6 hotels we patronized on our trip.

Typical In-Hotel Usage Scenarios

The iClever chargers were vital for keeping our smartphones and iPad charged. We used them every day, without fail, along with the appropriate cables. The battery packs came in handiest on the long driving days (2 each way) to and from Florida. That’s because time in the car routinely outlasted battery life on at least 3 of those 4 days.

In the hotel room, I used the iPad for recreational reading and map checking. We also used the two laptops, both of which run the production version of Windows 11 (Build 22000.376). My wife and I shared the X1 Extreme. Indeed, I actually had to do about 6-7 hours of legal work on the trip as various questions and document drafts required my input.

My son took over the Yoga 7 as his exclusive PC, and reported that it met his needs for streaming video, email, light gaming, and managing his social contacts quite nicely. He also used it to work on a short 2-minute film he’s planning to shoot this weekend as part of his college application process (he wants to major in film).

Stowing the Gear

All of this stuff fit well into a standard “schoolbook” back pack we keep around for travel. Its large internal pouch easily accommo-dated both laptops inside a padded  sub-area with Velcro closure. The iPad, cable bag and battery packs went into the forward section of that same internal pouch. And finally, both laptop bricks lived in a half-height zippered pouch at the very front of the backpack.

We maintained this organization for the whole trip because it made unpacking and packing easy. Ditto for ensuring that everything was present and loaded during pre-departure checks.

The Bottom Line

As I look over my Amazon Order history, I see we spent under US$300 for the bag and its contents, not including laptops and iPad. All together, cables accounted for under $50, the chargers for about the same amount, and the bags the same again. The RAVPower charger was the big-ticket item, at about US$120. But it can recharge all three of our smartphones and the iPad, or extend battery life for either laptop by 2-4 hours. Well worth the cost, methinks. All this gear helped us stay informed and in touch — and organized — on the road. Good stuff!

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Happy 2022 After Road Trip Return

At about 11:50 PM last night, I woke my dozing wife so we could hoist a glass to the incoming year at the stroke of midnight. Here at Chez Tittel, we’re all still recovering from our major Florida road trip, from which we rolled in at 7:30-ish on the  night of December 30. Hence, my well-intentioned wishes to readers for a happy 2022 after road trip return. Auld Ang Syne, and all that…

With Happy 2022 After Road Trip Return, Then What?

In what is becoming a family vacation pattern, we covered lots of ground and saw some super sights on a 13-day trip. We started out from Round Rock, Texas, and bookended the trip with a stay at Crestview, FL, across I-10 from the huge naval air station nominally at Pensacola for the first and last nights away from home. Day 2 was our longest drive, from Crestview to Key West, where we stayed until Day 4.

Here’s how the remaining vacation part of our trip played out:
* Miami Beach at the superb beachside hotel, The Palms (Days 4-7)
* West Palm Beach at the West Palm Hilton (Days 7-9)
* Orlando at the Hyatt Regency next to the Convention Center (Days 9-12)

Day 12 also saw us to Crestview (an easy 6-hour jaunt). Day 13 was a booger, with 13 hours in the car on the way home. To my surprise, we sailed over the I-10 Mississippi bridge in Baton Rouge. Then, we got stuck in a 90-minute traffic jam on the eastbound approach into Houston. (From Baytown to I-610 north, for those who know that part of the world.)

Trip Highlights: Part 1

While none of us is eager to return to Key West (Day 2 of the trip was a grueling 14-hour driving day), we did like the place. Though it’s not in downtown, the Margaritaville Beach House/resort proved to be a well-appointed hotel, albeit with leisurely service and an island state of mind. We had an amazing farewell dinner at the A&B Lobster House on the docks the night before our departure (Day 3). The Boss and The Boy tucked into butter-poached lobsters as big as your head, while I made do with a Oscar-style chunk of grouper.

The drive to The Palms in Miami Beach took less than 2.5 hours. The GPS ran us up Route 1, which I let stand so the family could get a good taste of Miami on our way. Ordinarily, I’d have over-ridden the route and gone up the Florida Turnpike. It was a slow but interesting drive to help see the southern approach to downtown.

In Miami Beach (MB), everybody agreed it was the best vacation spot on our itinerary. We had an amazing Cuban meal at Havana 1957 on Lincoln Street. We got to try a killer Cubano, great ropa vieja and terrific tostones. We also walked 6-8 miles a day during the whole stay, because MB is so walk-friendly. The car stayed in the hotel garage for our entire stay. We took a tour of Miami  by bus, and the bay between Miami and the barrier island by boat. Great fun!

Trip Highlights: Part 2

Our next stop was a sentimental destination. My mom lived in Palm Beach Gardens (PBG) from 1991 until 2006, and West Palm is the nearest tourist spot in that vicinity. We drove by her old house a couple of times, but also saw the grand mansions on Palm Beach island, and explored A1A all the way up to Jupiter beach. That included a stroll through the amazing John D. MacArthur Beach State Park on the barrier island to the east of Palm Beach Gardens. It also featured a great Christmas dinner with my Aunt Millie, her daughter, and three of her grand-kids at her PBG condo. Good times!

We also ate twice at a favorite Jewish Deli with many south and central Florida locations: TooJays. We liked it so much, we had our last meal at its Orlando location on our way to Crestview. All I can say is: Best. Matzo Ball Soup. Ever. I mean it! Good shepard’s pie, great pastrami and corned beef, wonderful baked goods, too.

Otherwise, we decided we prefer south to central Florida. On a next trip, we agreed to drop Orlando and Key West. Instead we’ll concentrate on Miami Beach and Palm Beach. Those thinking about a Florida visit of their own should consider doing the same. Cheers!

Back to Business on January 3

I’ll be resuming my normal blogging on Monday, with the real start of the working year for 2022. My first screed will enumerate the contents of the “technology bag” from our trip. I’ll explain what I took with us, how it worked for us, and provide purchase pointers for those likewise disposed. Stay tuned!

Note Added 2 Hrs Later (January 1)

As I re-read this travelogue, it occurs to me that I’m grateful to my readers and those who’ve hired me to work for them. That includes Microsoft (the WIMVP program), Fish & Richardson plus numerous other law firms, Actual Tech Media, ComputerWorld, TechTarget, and the For Dummies… Custom Publications group, among others.

In fact, 2021 turned out to be a much better year than I expected. I have those parties to thank for what success I’ve enjoyed in this current COVID related world of work. I wish everyone only the best for 2022. I hope the New Year is safe, prosperous and, above all, interesting and educational for all of us. Cheers (and thanks) again! =Ed=

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Windows 11 Year-end Ruminations

OK, then. I was MIA on the blog yesterday and the day before. I’m also getting ready to take a much-needed break for the rest of the year. For my final post for 2021, I want to share my Windows 11 year-end ruminations and observations. The new OS made its preview debut on June 24 (Dev Channel) and its public debut on October 4 of this year. There’s been lots of activity, things to learn and understand, and various issues to deal with along the way. Let me share some highlights…

Where My Windows 11 Year-end Ruminations Lead

Since day 1 (June 24) I’ve been mostly pleased and impressed with Windows 11. I like its snazzed-up UI, especially the rounded corners and the snappy iconography it uses. It came as much less of a shock to me than did Windows 8 (or 10, for that matter) because it still remains familiar and comfortable to me despite wearing a new set of clothes and offering some new capabilities.

A few glitches aside — such as the AMD and disk drive performance gotchas that have emerged over the past 6 months — Windows 11 has been an entirely positive user and admin experience for me. All of the image manipulation and management, installation and configuration tricks I’ve learned for Windows 10 over the last 7 years have worked for me on Windows 11 so far. That means my comfort level with the new OS is both welcome and quite high.

I understand the ongoing flap about the Windows 11 hardware requirements. I’m rather more amused than pissed off that my still-capable but now 5-year-old i7-6700 desktop doesn’t make the Windows 11 grade. It’s a relief that I currently own only two systems that don’t meet those requirements (the other one is my 2014 vintage Surface Pro 3). I’m going to keep the Surface running until Windows 10 reaches EOL so I can experience what happens as the preceding desktop generation winds down.

I was also impressed and surprised by the out-of-box experience on the Lenovo 11th-gen Yoga 7 14″ thin&light laptop the company sent me for review. The set-up and configuration is fluid and easy, and the OS has worked flawlessly since that unit showed here in October. It is my first exposure to a system with Windows 11 pre-installed and I must say it’s been everything I hoped it would be.

Where Will 2022 Take Windows 11?

We should see the first “big rev” in the fall — if not sooner than that according to the rumor mill. I’m expecting to see more elements fall out of Control Panel and into Settings. I’m expecting more old and familiar “stock apps” (think Notepad, File Explorer, Task Manager, and so forth) get a new look and feel. Some will no doubt experience feature set changes as well (out with the old and in with the new). The turnover of old and new features is a theme I think we’ll see continuing on for many years to come. When it happens I expect to enjoy learning what’s up and then sharing what I learn. Please stay tuned, and take that ride with me.

Let me also wish my readers a safe, prosperous and enjoyable end-of-year holiday season. Look for my daily blogs to resume on Monday, January 3. Happy trails until then!

Yours truly,
–Ed Tittel–

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Is Windows 11 Production Ready?

At my house, the question that entitles this post is an interesting one. Let me repeat: Is Windows 11 Production Ready? Like most good questions, the answer starts with two familiar words “That depends…” What the answer depends on includes the following elements:

  • Background of the user (more Windows-savvy users will suffer less distress from an upgrade)
  • Daily computing requirements (Windows 11 still suffers from some minor, but real, performance gotchas that will bother some users more than others)
  • Target PCs (though you can install Windows 11 on hardware that fails to meet its requirements, that means future updates may not work on your hardware)

There’s a lot to consider about Windows 11 when pondering upgrades or larger-scale migrations. (I’ve also speculated about the numbers of upgrades so far–see this December 1 item: Windows 11 MarketShare Q421.)

“Is Windows 11 Production Ready” Holds Numerous Nuances

At my house, I’m already running Windows 11 on 6 PCs. Except for my production desktop (which doesn’t meet the hardware requirements), I run all of those PCs myself. I’ve been using Windows 11 since Day 1. I’ve made sure that the hardware requirements are met, and I’ve had a uniformly positive experience in running the new OS across all Insider Preview and Production versions.

I haven’t upgraded my wife’s daily driver (an 11th-Gen Dell Optiplex 7080 Micro) because she hates change. I will wait for Windows 11 to solidify and stabilize before I upgrade her to the new OS. Hopefully that will involve only minimal stress and strain for everyone involved.

I haven’t upgraded my son’s Ryzen 5800 B550 PC to Windows 11 yet, either. He’s a heavy gamer, and the new Ryzens remain subject to “interesting” issues with gaming use on Windows 11. Frankly, I’m waiting for prices on a 3070 or 3080 Nvidia GPU to become affordable before I get serious about upgrading his system to Windows 11.

I’ve got a new desktop to build with the same components as my son’s PC (but I’m not a gamer). Thus, as soon as I find the time to stand it up and get it running (early 2022 is as soon as that can happen) I’ll be pioneering Windows 11 on a Ryzen 5800 CPU and so forth. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted on how that all turns out.

Implications for Your PC Fleet

Most businesses wait at least a year after a new Windows version makes it debut before starting migration. Many wait 2 years or longer. There’s still plenty of time to wait and watch how things go for other users before taking the plunge yourself. Or, you  can do as I have, and upgrade the more forward-leaning and adventurous users, while planning for (and waiting) for the trailing edge to gain urgency and impetus.

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Windows 11 22518 Gets Spotlight Background

Microsoft Spotlight is a stunning collection of high-resolution, high-impact photographs. The company has long used them for its lockscreen images. Starting with Build 22518 (Dev Channel), users can elect Spotlight images for desktop backgrounds. That’s what “Windows 11 22518 gets Spotlight background” means. To learn more , see “Configure Windows Spotlight on the lock screen.”

If Windows 11 22518 Gets Spotlight Background, Then What?

Starting in Build 22518, Windows 11 offers Spotlight collection as an option for “Personalize your background.” To access this item, right-click the desktop on a Windows 11 PC (Build 22518 or higher). Then, click the carat at the right of “Personalize your background.”

As you can see in the lead-in graphic for this story, that produces a menu of background image/color options. They now include “Spotlight collection” (at bottom). Choose that option and your desktop background will come from a collection of amazing images.

Confusion Sometimes Foils Rapid Reporting

At first, I could not find the Spotlight collection option as described. Only gradually did I realize it was my fault. Seems that while I had applied the 22518 update to my Dev Channel PCs, they hadn’t yet been restarted. Can’t get to a new version or build without a restart. Amusingly, operator error reared its frustrating and fulsome head.

But once I was running the right Dev Channel version, everything worked as described here. I have to laugh at myself for missing an obvious boat. But that’s the way things sometimes go here in Windows World. Before you can run, you must be able to walk…

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New MS Defender Preview Impediment

I have to chuckle. At the start of November, I wrote here that “I Get No MS Defender Preview.” Just to check up, I went back to the store to grab the Preview. It was no surprise at all that I can still report the same thing. What’s different now is the error message that comes up, as shown in the lead-in graphic. My latest sticking point represents a new MS Defender Preview impediment. As you can see, my account is now recognized, but I can’t log into the preview. Sigh.

Clueless on Overcoming New MS Defender Preview Impediment

I’ve dug around online, at both Microsoft and third-party Windows sites. I cannot find any info on how to subscribe to the Microsoft Defender Preview. Presumably, that would also provide me with necessary login info. But there’s no enlightenment obtainable on how that might be arranged.

Often, when Windows features go into limited release in the Preview channels, I find myself at the end of the pack in gaining access. That phenomenon seems likely in this case, too. I’ll raise a flag in the WIMVP forums and see if I can provoke any action. Shoot! I’d be happy just to get more information on how to subscribe and start participating in the Microsoft Defender Preview.

But — as is so often the case in my experience — I’m on the outside looking in. I know this Preview is happening. I simply can’t get access to it, to sample its functions and capabilities. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted as I try to work my way into that charmed space. Hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later. We’ll see!

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Windows 11 Sports Slow NVMe Driver?

Here’s an interesting thread emerging from the Windows press. A growing number of outlets are reporting that Microsoft’s own NVMe drivers run slower than their Win10 counterparts on identical (and other hardware). If Windows 11 sports slow NVMe driver, what can users do? Not much, it turns out, unless they can run a third-party driver instead (e.g. Samsung NVMe Controller). For good coverage on this topic, see Taras Buria’s recent WinAero story “Windows 11 apparently slows down NVMe SSDs.” It cites a range of interesting and informative original sources.

If Windows 11 Sports Slow NVMe Driver, Then What?

What appears to be affected is the OS boot/system drive (usually C:, where Windows itself resides). Some independent tests show that other non-OS partitions don’t suffer performance degradation. But OS partitions could suffer from reductions in random read/write speeds of 50% or worse. For grins I compared CrystalDiskMark stats from my 11th gen Lenovo X12 Hybrid Tablet running Windows 11 to my 6th gen home-brew Z170-based desktop. The former has a WD SN530 1 TB SSD, while the latter has a Samsung 950 1 TB SSD.

As you can see in the lead-in graphic, the newer Windows 11 unit is a bit slower on most readings than the older Windows 10 PC. Indeed QD32 random reads  are about 1/3 slower. That said, random writes of the same ilk go the other way (but with a less-than-7% delta). For random reads/writes with QD1, 11 edges 10 on writes by just over 9%, and vice-versa for reads by just over 15%. Kind of a wash, if you ask me.

What This Means for Upgrade Plans

MS has acknowledged that the issue is known to them and that they’re working on a fix, ETA unknown. Some reports aver that this phenomenon justifies postponing upgrades until a fix is in. My own experience with Windows 11 has been uniformly positive so far, NVMe performance observations notwithstanding. I’d recommend rethinking upgrades on PCs with heavy I/O workloads (e.g. CAD, AI, data analysis, and so forth). But for routine personal or productivity computing, it doesn’t really seem to make a noticeable difference.

I’ll be watching this issue as it unfolds. Count on me to let you know when this situation changes. Given the importance of NVMe to modern computing workloads, lots of people will no doubt follow this carefully and closely.

Note Added December 10: KB5007262 Fixes Issue, But…

KB5007262 should be installed as part of the upcoming December 14 updates for production Windows 11. It came out for Beta/Dev Channel users in November (ditto for production versions, as a Preview Update on November 23). Indeed, it seems to fix the performance issues. According to this WinAero story, the MS bugfix info for the KB5007262 announcement includes the following text:

“Addresses an issue that affects the performance of all disks (NVMe, SSD, hardisk) on Windows 11 by performing unnecessary actions each time a write operation occurs. This issue occurs only when the NTFS USN journal is enabled. Note, the USN journal is always enabled on the C: disk.”

And indeed, on my X1 Extreme laptop (8th gen i7, Samsung OEM 512GB NVMe SSD, 32 GB RAM) speeds are where experience teaches me they should be. According to the afore-linked story, this fix applies to all versions of Windows 11 except Dev Channel. As far as I can tell, that version remains subject to the slow-down. I’m looking for some additional word from MS on this topic. Hopefully, they’ll fix it there soon, too. Stay tuned!

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Windows 11 22509 Gets New Start Control

I read about this the other day, but couldn’t find my way to it. Now, thanks to Taras Buria at WinAero, I can see (and say) what’s up. Initially, I’d misread descriptions. Based on too, too much prior experience I assumed this was a gradual feature rollout, and my PC hadn’t made the cut. Wrong! Windows 11 22509 gets new Start control across the board — easily accessed, in fact.

Windows 11 22509 Gets New Start Control: How-To

Click Start → Settings → Personalization → Start and it shows up on top of the page, under the Layout heading. Just like in the lead-in graphic for this story. Here’s what the radio buttons mean:

  • More pins: provides more slots in which to pin apps on the Start menu.
  • Default: provides a mix of recently-accessed files, plus recommendations from the OS.
  • More recommendations: allocates more slots for Windows-supplied items in the Start menu.

Recommendations have apparently not proved very popular with Windows users. The WinAero story put the change in these terms: “To show that Microsoft listens to users’ feedback, Windows developers introduced a new option that allows you to show more icons on the Start menu in Windows 11.”

Start Menu Remains a Hot-Button Topic

Certainly, it’s nice to see MS providing some added Start menu options. This Windows cockpit remains a source of passionate opinions and reactions. I’m just glad that 7 years of Windows 10 use has equipped me to deal with the Windows 11 Start menu without feeling forced to use a third-party tool like whatever Classic Shell is called nowadays, or something else like Start11.

In general, providing more and better Start menu customization seems like a good direction for MS to take. Here’s hoping this first bit of tweak support directly from the OS is neither an anomaly nor the last of its kind to show up for a while. Fingers crossed!

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