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ODF Alliance Tests Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 ODF Support - Finds Serious Shortcomings
Tuesday, May 19 2009 @ 10:54 PM EDT

The ODF Alliance has prepared a Fact Sheet [PDF; also available as text on their website, if you scroll down] for governments and others interested in how Microsoft's SP2 for Office 2007 handles ODF. The ODF Allliance says their testing revealed "serious shortcomings that, left unaddressed, would break the open standards based interoperability that the marketplace, especially governments, is demanding". The Fact Sheet itemizes the major problems testing revealed. Marino Marcich, managing director of ODF Alliance, points to one huge shortcoming:
“For example, even the most basic spreadsheet functions, such as adding the numbers contained in two cells, were simply stripped in an ODF file when opened and re-saved in Microsoft Office 2007. A document created in one ODF-supporting application, when re-saved in Microsoft Office 2007, rendered differently – missing bullets, page numbers, charts and other objects, changed fonts – making collaboration on an ODF file with Office 2007 very difficult. Indeed, some of the so-called 'plug-ins’ were revealed to provide better support for ODF than the recently released Microsoft Office 2007 SP2. This is no way to achieve the interoperability around ODF that the marketplace is demanding.”
[ Update: Jeremy Allison adds to the discussion with his article, In Office SP2, Microsoft manages to reduce interoperability: "This is not interoperability, it’s an attack on the very concept."]

It would be a major disappointment, if I ever had any hope that Microsoft would actually allow true interoperability. However, having formed the opinion during the BRM over OOXML that Microsoft had no such goal, I was spared any disappointment when my suspicions came true. But it's a crying shame, and I feel for any government entities trying to figure out how to get to actual interoperability for all their citizens. How can they insist that a citizen has to buy proprietary software in order to interact with their government? It just sticks in your throat, doesn't it? Unless you are Microsoft, of course. To Microsoft, vendor lock-in is not a bug, I suspect, but a feature.

The Fact Sheet made me smile in one aspect. It says Microsoft's announcement of the release of SP2 provides no promise that it will keep its "support" of ODF up-to-date with the latest version, but frankly, with "support" like this, what difference does it make what Microsoft promises or doesn't promise? They obviously, to me, don't intend to be interoperable with ODF, unless someone forces them, and even then, foot dragging has been known to occur.

Here's the ODF Alliance press release, followed by the Fact Sheet findings -- and note the references to further readings:

*******************

Microsoft’s ODF Support Falls Short
ODF Alliance Finds Substantial Improvements Needed for Real-World Interoperability

Washington, DC, May 19, 2009. The OpenDocument Format (ODF) Alliance today cautioned that serious deficiencies in Microsoft’s support for ODF needed to be addressed to ensure greater interoperability with other ODF-supporting software.

“Support for ODF represents an important and ongoing test of Microsoft’s commitment to real-world interoperability,” said ODF Alliance managing director Marino Marcich. “Unfortunately, serious shortcomings have been identified in Microsoft’s support for ODF. Putting potentially millions of ODF files into circulation that are non-interoperable and incompatible with the ODF support provided by other vendors is a recipe for fragmentation.”

On April 28, 2009, Microsoft released Service Pack 2 for Office 2007 which provided users the ability to open and save ODF files. However, an initial round of testing of Microsoft’s support for ODF in Office 2007 (see analysis here) has revealed serious shortcomings that, left unaddressed, would break the open standards based interoperability that the marketplace, especially governments, is demanding.

“A number of basic interoperability tests between Microsoft Office 2007 and various ODF-supporting software suites revealed that the level of interoperability is far short of what governments around the world are demanding,” said Marcich. “For example, even the most basic spreadsheet functions, such as adding the numbers contained in two cells, were simply stripped in an ODF file when opened and re-saved in Microsoft Office 2007. A document created in one ODF-supporting application, when re-saved in Microsoft Office 2007, rendered differently – missing bullets, page numbers, charts and other objects, changed fonts – making collaboration on an ODF file with Office 2007 very difficult. Indeed, some of the so-called ‘plug-ins’ were revealed to provide better support for ODF than the recently released Microsoft Office 2007 SP2. This is no way to achieve the interoperability around ODF that the marketplace is demanding.”

“Tracked changes are essential to document collaboration, and formulas are the essence of spreadsheets. Microsoft’s failure to support either in SP2 is revealing with regard to its support for real-world interoperability,” added Marcich. “Given the shortcomings in Microsoft’s support for ODF, governments need to continue to demand that Microsoft implement support in a manner that plays well with the software of other vendors.”

Despite these concerns, Marcich cited the growing interest in ODF. “The intense, widespread interest in Microsoft’s support for ODF suggests the public debate over document formats is not about to end anytime soon,” concluded Marcich. “What is clear is that the era of public information being locked in a closed format requiring the public to purchase a particular brand of software is rapidly coming to a close, thanks in no small measure to the courage and foresight of leading ODF-supporting governments that have been willing to take a stand on this important public-policy issue.”

About the ODF Alliance:

The OpenDocument Format Alliance is an organization of governments, academic institutions, non-government organizations and industry dedicated to educating policy makers, IT administrators and the public on the benefits and opportunities of ODF.

******************************
******************************

MS Office 2007 Service Pack 2 With Support for ODF: How Well Does It Work?
Summary of Initial Test Results on Microsoft’s Support For ODF

Microsoft’s support for the OpenDocument Format (ODF) represents an important and ongoing test of its commitment to real-world interoperability. With SP2, Microsoft instantly becomes the ODF office suite with the greatest market share. Putting millions of ODF files into circulation that are non-interoperable and incompatible with the ODF support provided by other vendors, however, is a recipe for fragmentation, effectively breaking open standards based interoperability on the desktop.

Summarized below are the major shortcomings in Microsoft’s support for ODF that have been identified after an initial round of testing. Left unaddressed, they chart a path toward greater divergence instead of the convergence around an open, editable exchange format that the marketplace, including and especially governments, is demanding. Looking forward, a number of recommendations are made to enable Microsoft to make good on its commitment of interoperable support for ODF.

ODF Spreadsheet Interoperability

When reading an ODF spreadsheet, MS Office Excel 2007 strips out formulas, breaking spreadsheet interoperability with all other ODF-supporting applications. While adequate for viewing, Microsoft’s support for ODF spreadsheet collaboration is practically worthless.

  • A test spreadsheet created in Google Docs, KSpread, Symphony, OpenOffice, and the Sun Plug-In 3.0 for MS Office, for example, when loaded in MS Excel 2007, failed to process correctly. This is because the formulas used to perform calculations within a spreadsheet (e.g., adding numbers in a column of cells) are simply removed in MS Excel 2007. Instead of performing the calculations, what is left is when the spreadsheet is loaded in MS Excel 2007 is the last value that cell had, when previously saved.

  • The same test spreadsheet, when loaded and saved in all the other applications besides MS Excel 2007 (e.g., between KSpread and Google Docs), does process correctly. Most other ODF spreadsheet applications are able to interoperate just fine. The correct approach would have been for Microsoft to do the same to ensure that MS Office users can share spreadsheets with other ODF-supporting office suites.

  • The ODF plug-ins for Microsoft Office written by third parties were revealed to provide better support for ODF than the recently released Microsoft Office 2007 SP2. MS Excel 2007 will process ODF spreadsheet documents when loaded via the Sun Plug-In 3.0 for MS Office or the SourceForge “OpenXML/ODF Translator Add-in for Office,” but will fail when using the “built-in” support provided by Office 2007 SP2.

  • Though spreadsheet formula for ODF 1.0/1.1 (the version which Microsoft claims it supports in Office 2007) are implementation-defined, ODF implementations have nevertheless converged on increasingly interoperable spreadsheets formulas. Microsoft was a voting member of OASIS at the time of ODF 1.0/1.1’s approval. ODF 1.2, expected to be considered for approval shortly as an OASIS standard, will define spreadsheet formula using OpenFormula.

  • ODF spreadsheets created in Excel 2007 SP2 do not in fact conform to ODF 1.1 because Excel 2007 incorrectly encodes formulas with cell addresses. Section 8.3.1 of ODF 1.1 says that addresses in formulas “start with a “[“ and end with a “]”.” In Excel 2007 cell addresses were not enclosed with the necessary square brackets, which could be easily corrected.

Additional Reading: See Update on ODF Spreadsheet Interoperability by Rob Weir/IBM and On the Microsoft ODF Support Fiasco by Ditesh Gathani.

Encryption

Microsoft Office 2007 does not support encryption (password-protection) in ODF files.

  • A MS Office 2007 user with access to the password cannot open a password-protected document created in any of the other major ODF-supporting suites.

  • Password protection is an interoperable, supported feature between and among the other major ODF-supporting suites, including KOffice, Open Office, and Lotus Symphony.

  • In the other direction, ODF files written in MS Office 2007 cannot be password-protected. MS Office 2007 users are presented with a warning message that you “cannot use password protection using the ODF format.”

  • Encryption and password protection are fully specified in ODF 1.0/1.1 (item 17.3 of the specification), so the failure to define this feature in ODF cannot be cited as a plausible explanation. Microsoft should implement support for encryption immediately. ODF 1.2 will come with support for digital signatures. Microsoft should add support for digital signatures as soon as ODF 1.2 is approved.

Additional Reading: See Microsoft now attempts to fragment ODF by Jomar Silva/ODF Alliance.

Tracked Changes

Microsoft Office 2007 does not support tracked changes in ODF.

  • Tracked changes are essential to collaboration. Failure to include support for tracked changes rules out effective collaboration on an ODF file between users of MS Office 2007 and the ODF-supporting applications that do support this feature, including OpenOffice.org, StarOffice, Lotus Symphony, and Google Docs, among others.

  • Tracked changes are specified in ODF 1.0/1.1 so the failure to define this feature in ODF cannot be cited as a plausible explanation. Microsoft should implement interoperable support for tracked changes immediately.

ODF Support in MS Office 2007 Only

MS has not implemented “native” support for ODF in Office 2003 or its predecessors.

  • The vast majority of Microsoft Office users, especially and including most governments, are currently using Office 2003 or its predecessors.

  • To receive “native” support for ODF, MS Office government users will be forced to upgrade to MS Office 2007.

  • For users of Office 2003 and its predecessors, Microsoft has promised to continue to support the SourceForge “OpenXML/ODF Translator Add-in for Office,” and the Sun Plug-In 3.0 is also available to MS Office users. While these plug-ins meet or exceed the performance of Microsoft’s support in MS Office 2007 SP2, they are no long-term substitute for full, native, interoperable support.

Commitment to Support Future Versions of ODF

Microsoft’s announcement concerning the release of Service Pack 2 contains no promise that it will keep its “support” for ODF up to date with the latest version.

  • Microsoft has dragged its feet for over 3 years (ODF 1.0 was approved as an OASIS standard in May 2005 and as an ISO standard in May 2006; ODF 1.1 by OASIS in Feb. 2007), despite repeated calls by governments throughout Europe and elsewhere to implement support for ODF.

  • Implementing incompatible, down-level versions of open standards will break interoperability on the desktop, especially considering Microsoft’s potentially large ODF installed user base.

  • Microsoft has a rich history of implementing down-level versions of open standards; e.g., Java in Internet Explorer, where Microsoft pre-installed an incompatible version with proprietary extensions and then to let it languish, failing to update it as the Java technology evolved.

  • ODF 1.2, which comes with spreadsheet formula, metadata and digital-signature support, will be considered for approval as an OASIS standard soon and has been publicly available on the OASIS OpenDocument Technical Committee (in which Microsoft participates) web site.

  • Microsoft and other ODF-supporting vendors should publicly commit to keeping their implementation up to date with the latest version of ODF. A new version of ODF should be required to be supported in any MS Office version or service pack released after the new version of an ODF standard is released.

  


ODF Alliance Tests Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 ODF Support - Finds Serious Shortcomings | 210 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections thread
Authored by: Aladdin Sane on Tuesday, May 19 2009 @ 10:59 PM EDT
If you have corrections, and I'm sure you do, you may place them here.

---
"Then you admit confirming not denying you ever said that?"
"NO! ... I mean Yes! WHAT?"
"I'll put `maybe.'"
--Bloom County

[ Reply to This | # ]

[NP] News Picks discussion
Authored by: Aladdin Sane on Tuesday, May 19 2009 @ 11:01 PM EDT
Discuss Groklaw News Picks here. Please state the name of the News Pick you are discussing.

---
"Then you admit confirming not denying you ever said that?"
"NO! ... I mean Yes! WHAT?"
"I'll put `maybe.'"
--Bloom County

[ Reply to This | # ]

[OT] Off Topic discussions
Authored by: Aladdin Sane on Tuesday, May 19 2009 @ 11:03 PM EDT
Discuss off-topically here. Keep in my that an assertion without evidence is not an argument (he asserted).

---
"Then you admit confirming not denying you ever said that?"
"NO! ... I mean Yes! WHAT?"
"I'll put `maybe.'"
--Bloom County

[ Reply to This | # ]

This time it isn't going to work
Authored by: kawabago on Tuesday, May 19 2009 @ 11:49 PM EDT
This time the world will adopt ODF and Microsoft will be left with a product no
one wants. This time Microsoft is going to lock itself out of it's own market.
The funny part is that MS won't figure it out till it's too late and everyone
has already switched. Microsoft will become a penny stock.

[ Reply to This | # ]

ODF Alliance Tests Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 ODF Support - Finds Serious Shortcomings
Authored by: stegu on Tuesday, May 19 2009 @ 11:50 PM EDT
So, MS Office still does not support ODF properly, and neither does it implement
OOXML in any of its standardized versions.
This makes MS Office ineligible for government purchases and other applications
where standards compliance and interoperability is a prerequisite.
I really fail to see how this can be a good business decision for Microsoft.
Given the obvious new demands placed on them, they should not be this stupid. Is
this really the same old dirty tricks from the same old company, or are we
seeing an increasing lack of talent in the huge and hierarchically organized
development teams at Microsoft? I would not be surprised if skilled programmers
over the world no longer want to work that way, regardless of what they think of
Microsoft's products and business practices.

[ Reply to This | # ]

what a deal!
Authored by: grouch on Tuesday, May 19 2009 @ 11:57 PM EDT
Would anyone complain if, after paying scalper's prices to see the Super Bowl, what you received instead was just the final score?

That's a petty scam compared to what MS SP2 is doing -- the exorbitant fees are there and the final score is there (spreadsheets with results but no formulas), but that is just the beginning of the spreading rip-off.

Will it take 10 years before the U.S. and other governments recognize the harm and react appropriately?

---
-- grouch

GNU/Linux obeys you.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Serious Shortcomings in ODF reading not all MS's problem
Authored by: FreeChief on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 12:08 AM EDT
Someone I know sent me an *.odt file by email. She is not really into it, but somebody else had told her that *.odt is the way to inter-operate. She said she made it in OpenOffice for Windows. I opened it with OpenOffice.org 1.1.2 for Linux. No doubt it is an old version, but it should have done something. I saw one blank page.

Why is that?

I don't know. I unzipped it, and it created a directory full of files, one of which looked like the document, though it was so thick with formatting commands that I couldn't really do anything with it. I removed all the stuff between angle brackets, and got a torqued-up ascii text file.

So something was there, but OpenOffice showed me nothing. Now I have only used OpenOffice once or twice before, to open a *.doc (MS Word) file that somebody sent me, for which it worked perfectly. Maybe I am doing something wrong, because I haven't learned the secret, but why is there a secret?

 — Programmer in Chief

PS: TeX RuLeZ!

[ Reply to This | # ]

I look at the bright side
Authored by: Peter Baker on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 01:13 AM EDT
The observation that MS supported ODF "support" is only available in
Office 2007 has an interesting extra answer: migrate to OpenOffice 3.1

It's the only product I know that maintains the user interface especially
government users have become used to in Office 2003 AND support ODF properly.

I have heard people praise the 2007 "ribbon" but I've been editing
documents for quite a few years, and it's turned MS Office into a time consuming
game of "where has that facility gone" and I can't afford that time,
especially since they nuked the help function in the process as well by web
enabling it - the MS search function means that a search for one specific,
focused topic yields answers containing everything plus kitchen sink. Groan.

Thankfully I only have to use it at client sites, but even after half a year it
still happens.

As for the support quality of a standard that doesn't enfoce MS's reign over the
desktop, could I have a show of hands from everyone surprised by this? No-one?

Thought so..

[ Reply to This | # ]

Fight Microsoft with publicity
Authored by: TiddlyPom on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 04:36 AM EDT
If Microsoft does not support ODF 1.1 properly (which the ODF Alliance says it
doesn't) then they need to send Microsoft a legal letter to force them to drop
the ODF compatibility propaganda until they fix things properly.

I would also suggest a newspaper article in some suitable broadsheet newspaper.

This is so obviously an attempt to destroy confidence in ODF by 'not quite'
supporting ODF properly and then saying

"well we support ODF but you can SEE that you can't use it to share
documents"

Good try Microsoft but you are fooling nobody.

---
Microsoft Software is expensive, bloated, bug-ridden and unnecessary.
Use Open Source Software instead.

[ Reply to This | # ]

disapointmet ? - ODF Alliance Tests Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 ODF Support - Finds Serious...
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 09:25 AM EDT
"...I was spared any disappointment..."

PJ

The problem is they are putting this garbage in a service pack and touting it as exporting to ODF, which it is not. They ought to be taken to court over this. It is the same thing as when they broke Java with their proprietary extensions and continued to call it Java. They are claiming ODF compliance when in fact they are not. It is fraudulent advertising, and they should be STOPPED!!!!!

This is on the same order of magnitude as suing Tom Tom.

THEY HAVE LEARNED NOTHING!!!

[ Reply to This | # ]

ODF Alliance Tests Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 ODF Support - Finds Serious Shortcomings
Authored by: JamesK on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 09:55 AM EDT
Here's what Jeremy Allison has to say.

---
Self Assembling Möbius Strip - See other side for details.

[ Reply to This | # ]

It's going to take a long time
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 11:53 AM EDT
I bet there will still be widespread use of *.doc a decade from now. The
monopoly has been so deeply entrenched for so long that sheer inertia will keep
people using Office for years to come.

There's no doubt, though, that the economics of Free Software are going to
progressively and irreversibly erode Microsoft's position. It seems to me that
there are three main "cracks in the wall":
1. OO.o and ODF - Each release of OO.o removes some of the obstacles to wider
use, and the price is certainly right. It is getting harder to make the claim
(with a straight face) that enterprise-level organizations cannot function
without MS Office. Most people don't care about freedom in this setting, but
they sure care about money. MS Office is increasingly going to look like
"more money for no added benefit".
2. Firefox - of critical importance to break the lock-in imposed by IE-only
websites. Safari is also helpful in this regard. There remains the problem of
IE-only intranet web apps that many corporations have developed, as well as
third-party web apps that are coded to require IE.
3. Netbooks, particularly when arm-based netbooks appear. MS has had to respond
by essentially giving away XP for free. We soon will see $150 devices where any
proprietary software licenses will have a huge impact on the price. MS'
response is a sort of "Linux is limited" FUD. That may work when a
computer is thought of as a major investment. When netbooks get cheap enough,
people will just think "so what, if I don't like it I'll just get a
different one".

[ Reply to This | # ]

The more things change, the more they remain the same...
Authored by: paul_cooke on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 01:01 PM EDT
Microsoft have NEVER played fair when reading and writing to competitor's
products... their import filters have always made a good effort in bringing a
document in, but saving out has always lost formatting reducing documents to the
bare minimum...

similarly, Microsoft has always kept a very tight hold on their own proprietary
binary blobs forcing competitors to waste time having to reverse engineer the
formats to create import filters by doing things the hard way, introducing a
feature at a time in a document to export to see what changes between the two
exported versions...

and Microsoft are very good at churning the binary blobs between versions of
software to force competitors to redo the effort every time...

---
Use Linux - Computer power for the people: Down with cybercrud...

[ Reply to This | # ]

ODF Alliance Tests Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 ODF Support - Finds Serious Shortcomings
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 01:20 PM EDT
My favorite Microsoft fanboy response to all of this, is to blame the standard.
That is fine and good, the standard MS choose to follow has holes. If a
developer encounters a hole in a standard, the developer should, if other
implementations exist, use existing implementations to fill the holes. If not,
then what is the point to making something up; either to add a marketing feature
or destroy the standard. ODF as with most standards is always going to be a
work in progress to improve this or that. So much of ODF is guess work, there
was some standards that can be used but in some places, but in other places
standards needed to be created first. Eg. to represent a Formula, anything
could have been written into the standard, but by creating OpenFormula a Formula
can be represented outside of ODF. Sometimes holes are not desired, but needed
to allow for the proper development of something to fill them.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Frustrated
Authored by: davescafe on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 03:11 PM EDT
I am very frustrated by this situation. The ODF Alliance should know better than
to take Microsoft at it's word. On the same day that Microsoft released the
service pack (April 28), the ODF Alliance issued a press release that “welcomed”
Microsoft's Office 2007 SP2 and declared that the service pack “provides
long-awaited support for the OpenDocument Format (ODF).” Had the ODF Alliance
actually looked at the ODF capability in SP2 before releasing this statement to
the press, I suspect it would not have sounded so welcoming to Microsoft. As it
was, the ODF Alliance's press release was picked up by the mainstream tech media
and broadcast far and wide, including very high-profile sites such as Cnet,
Zdnet, etc. The press release proudly boasts, “This is a victory for ODF, as it
signifies a reversal of course by Microsoft from their decision to shun the
format during the initial launch of Office 2007.” This victory of ODF, however,
was not a significant part of the mainstream news articles I read. Instead,
articles portrayed the value to customers that Microsoft provided with Office
2007 SP2. Microsoft had supposedly listened to the customer and responded by
providing much-needed interoperability. Whether intentionally or not, Microsoft
ended up being characterized very positively by the news reports and the ODF
Alliance press release supported this characterization.

Now, less than one month later (May 19), the ODF Alliance has issued another
press release saying that, “Microsoft's ODF Support Falls Short.” The second
press release links to a Fact Sheet with a long list Office 2007 SP2's ODF
shortcomings. What is missing is any indication that the ODF Alliance is aware
that it has made an embarrassing about-face regarding Microsoft's ODF support in
Office 2007 SP2.

The ODF Alliance should have known better. It fell into the same trap Microsoft
has laid again and again for it's challengers. Certainly, the 2nd press release
exposing Microsoft's failed interoperability will be picked up by the news
websites, but it will be nowhere near as widespread because it does not
piggy-back the news of SP2's availability. This second press release will be
like a correction is in a printed newspaper - buried somewhere inside and seen
by very few. In addition, any criticism of ODF support in Office 2007 will
likely create confusion about ODF in the minds of Office 2007 customers
(including business and governments), such that they may decide just to stick to
the formats they know (Microsoft formats) until problems are resolved. All
Microsoft has to do to ensure those customers continue with Microsoft formats is
to continue creating sewing confusion about ODF interoperability.

I support the ODF Alliance, and I know that it cannot change Microsoft's bad
behavior. However, I would like to see the ODF Alliance taking much more
cautious approach when dealing with this well-known, abusive monopolist. Test
first, then issue press releases.

[ Reply to This | # ]

ODF Alliance Tests Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 ODF Support - Finds Serious Shortcomings
Authored by: Gringo on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 04:01 PM EDT

The ODF Alliance has prepared a Fact Sheet for governments and others interested in how Microsoft's SP2 for Office 2007 handles ODF.

The story has now hit Sla shdot

[ Reply to This | # ]

ODF Alliance Tests Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 ODF Support - Finds Serious Shortcomings
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, May 20 2009 @ 05:00 PM EDT
" How can they insist that a citizen has to buy proprietary software in order to interact with their government?"

When you send a letter to your government, you also have to buy stamps, paper, an envelope and a pen to write - they don't give you these tools. You also have to pay for phone calls and faxes. Or for the ride with public transportation to get to an official building. Now why, all of a sudden, should your government provide you with free software to interact with them?

If they grant you the right to free software, they also have to give you the right to free Internet access, free electricity and a free computer, no?

Winfried Maus

[ Reply to This | # ]

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