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Microsoft Windows

Hands-On With Windows 8.1 Preview 505

Posted by Soulskill
from the solid-color-rectangles-redux dept.
adeelarshad82 writes "Microsoft launched the preview version of Windows 8.1 at the company's Build conference in San Francisco and early signs show that Microsoft heard the criticisms, and has responded with improvements. The new OS includes a number of changes starting with the return of the Start button and the ability to boot directly to the desktop. However, Microsoft hasn't given up on making the new-style tile and full-screen more usable for all users. If anything, the tile-based Start screen has gotten more flexible, with new smaller and larger tile options. Windows 8.1 also drastically improves built-in search, SkyDrive cloud syncing, mail and Microsoft Music." Microsoft also released a preview of Visual Studio 2013 and .NET 4.5.1, and there's a program that will give developers early access to the PC version of the Kinect sensor. Other tidbits: Windows 8.1 will use a standard driver model for 3-D printers, and it's getting better support for both high-res displays and using multiple displays with different resolutions.
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Hands-On With Windows 8.1 Preview

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:23PM (#44116647)

    That's the phrase everyone has wanted to hear, including myself. Microsoft may have backpedaled, but that was the right thing to do.

    • by Entropy98 (1340659) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:30PM (#44116721) Homepage

      That's the phrase everyone has wanted to hear, including myself. Microsoft may have backpedaled, but that was the right thing to do.

      What good is a start button without a start menu?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:36PM (#44116787)

        What good is a start button without a start menu?

        Works great in my car.

        So by analogy, it'll work great in a computer.

      • by Vanderhoth (1582661) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:39PM (#44116815)
        I was going to say, the start button isn't what people wanted, they wanted the start menu. METRO sucks on the desktop, I don't want it and I don't want to see it. Tablet or phone sure it makes sense.

        Now we're probably going to have to sit through hundreds of posts for "I've been using windows 8.1 for 10 years and it's just so awesome with the new start button, just what everyone wanted. MS is such a great company that listens to their customers."
        • by tripleevenfall (1990004) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:44PM (#44116853)

          MS is such a great company that listens to their customers... after their market share erodes, after they miserably fail in mobile and tablet spaces, and after they face the prospect of another Vista-like iteration of an OS that business customers will skip altogether.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by MTEK (2826397)

          Now we're probably going to have to sit through hundreds of posts for "I've been using windows 8.1 for 10 years and it's just so awesome with the new start button, just what everyone wanted. MS is such a great company that listens to their customers."

          You know that spam where some idiot says his friend's mom makes $$$$ every month working from home? It's probably true. Judging from the comment sections under most Windows 8 articles, it seems Microsoft (or some social media ad agency) is paying stay at home moms to promote the product and counter any criticism.

          • Its pretty much a known fact that MS employs shills to hawk their products online. Only, they don't call it shilling, they call it Technology Evangelism [techrights.org].

            Fascinating read.

            • by rtb61 (674572)

              However M$ should have realised the 'desktop' and notebook market is becoming pretty much what is 10 to 15 years ago. The 'majority' of computer users, just are not using a desktop at anywhere near it's design power or flexability, they will be content on big screen TV shininess, mobile phone flashiness and of course tablet media and game consumption.

              Those desktop users, now a technical minority in the computer market, still represent the same number of users that defined the bulk of the market 10 to 15

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          Having watched a few people using older versions of Windows and Windows 8 I think it does actually make sense, it was just badly implemented. Allow me to explain.

          Many people don't really use the start menu much it seems. They have all their apps on their desktop, a huge wall of icons. They know where everything is via spacial memory rather than looking at lists of text on a menu. Seems counter-intuitive to us geeks but actually this kind of emergent "it's a mess but I know where everything is" organization

          • by Alioth (221270)

            It's not really that.

            1. The Start menu might not be used a lot but that's not the point. The point is that it's discoverable. It's easy to find something new, like a new desktop program that's been installed. The user can then make a shortcut if they want. It leaves the user feeling in control.
            2. Metro and desktop are jarringly different. The primary golden rule of Shneiderman's 8 Golden Rules of user interface design is "strive for consistency". In the past Microsoft have done this, but now they've done th

      • by andrewa (18630) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:28PM (#44117253)
        I haven't really used the start menu in Windows 7 in a long time. My typical workflow is to hit the Windows key then type the first few letters of the application I want to start, and then hit enter. As long as Windows 8 allows that easily now with booting to desktop and a start button, then it works for me at least. Admittedly I haven't really played with Windows 8 much.
        • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @06:16PM (#44117689) Journal
          That is a good start. Now learn to type it from a shell window, and memorize some more obscure strings of letters and discover the amazing things they do. Like ls grep awk diff less more cut join find etc. Then learn about even more obscure symbols like ! & > >> | Then someday you will understand why the unix hacks are so happy and are not so easily impressed by some of the bells and whistles and eye candy of the GUI.
    • by SoCalChris (573049) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:37PM (#44116789) Journal

      Except that they totally missed the point of what everyone wanted.

      Yes, there is a start button there now. But all it does is bring up the start screen, the same as pressing the Windows key. The start menu, which is what most people really want back, is still missing from the OS.

      • by vux984 (928602) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:57PM (#44116949)

        Yes, there is a start button there now. But all it does is bring up the start screen, the same as pressing the Windows key. The start menu, which is what most people really want back, is still missing from the OS.

        I disagree. Most people were just confused by the lack of a physical button to click on to do anything.

        A MUCH smaller subset actually wanted the old start menu back. I know I don't. There are elements of the old start menu that I liked, but most of it was a bad idea. Start -> All Programs was a complete disaster -- lets put a hierarchy of everything installed on your computer in a small non-resizable popup menu. Sorry that was just awful. For anything you need the start MENU for, the start screen is a LOT better.

        Pinned aps on the start menu? Use a toolbar if you want a popup menu for those on the taskbar.

        The only real loss is the search box that many power users use as a quick launcher - the start screen works for this, and is better if you are actually doing any sort of real search. But a desktop widget would be more appropriate for the "quick launch task of things we already know about."

        But this is a power user function / feature not something "most users" do. Personally I'm looking for good 3rd party options, that just address this small shortcoming, rather than try to recreate the disaster that the old start menu was.

        • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:23PM (#44117197) Homepage Journal

          lets put a hierarchy of everything installed on your computer in a small non-resizable popup menu.

          That's funny. I kind of like that Start ->All Programs menu. There are a lot of programs that I don't use every day that I don't need anywhere near a first level.

          I want them in that menu.

        • by SoCalChris (573049) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:36PM (#44117313) Journal

          A MUCH smaller subset actually wanted the old start menu back. I know I don't. There are elements of the old start menu that I liked, but most of it was a bad idea. Start -> All Programs was a complete disaster -- lets put a hierarchy of everything installed on your computer in a small non-resizable popup menu.

          Most users don't use the heirarchal menu very often. They usually either type the first few characters to search, or use one of the recent programs listed. But if you're in one of the instances where you're trying to access a program that you don't use very often, and don't remember the exact name of it, the hierarchical menu is light years beyond the start screen.

          For example, take a look at what my Windows 8 start screen looks like [imgur.com]. It's an absolute mess, and nearly unusable in my opinion. The Start8 menu that I installed is much easier, quicker, and far more intuitive to use. I suspect that many users feel the same way as I do.

        • by CCarrot (1562079) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:46PM (#44117405)

          Start -> All Programs was a complete disaster -- lets put a hierarchy of everything installed on your computer in a small non-resizable popup menu. Sorry that was just awful. For anything you need the start MENU for, the start screen is a LOT better.

          Certainly, instead of a tidy, hierarchical, collapsible interface that only takes up (maybe) a third of the screen, let's make it a mandatory full-screen, scrollable (and scrollable and scrollable) interface instead, with gigantic, cryptic, space-wasting, two-tone icons instead! Brilliant!

          You're one of those people who prefer to keep all their filing in a nice big pile right on their desktop, aren't you? Sure, you have to reach around the pile every time you want to use the phone, or grab your stapler, but hey, all your papers are 'at your fingertips'! No more need to open those pesky filing cabinets, or flip through individual folders!

          What I *especially* love about the start screen is how it pretty much makes my family wallpapers useless. On Windows 7, I put the shortcuts around the edges of the desktop, then I can see the wallpaper subject (and smile) every time I go back to the desktop. With Windows 8...well, I don't have many photos of my family where the important parts (faces) are pressed right against the top, bottom or either edge of the shot. Yes, I could put a photo widget in the start screen...then be constantly annoyed at the need to scroll past it to get to my shortcuts.

          No, ClassicStart and Start8 have pretty much saved Microsoft's ass on this release. If I were them, I'd be asking for a reward or something...

          • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

            Certainly, instead of a tidy, hierarchical, collapsible interface that only takes up (maybe) a third of the screen, let's make it a mandatory full-screen, scrollable (and scrollable and scrollable) interface instead, with gigantic, cryptic, space-wasting, two-tone icons instead! Brilliant!

            Can you outline a situation when it would be better not to use the entire screen for finding and starting an app? I understand fully why having multiple apps on the screen is a good thing, but when you want to start one why not immediately use the entire screen so you don't have to navigate through submenus?

            Ever noticed how most users click the icons on their desktop to start applications? They know where they are by spacial memory or looking for icons, not by reading the labels. I know it annoys people who

            • by CCarrot (1562079)

              Can you outline a situation when it would be better not to use the entire screen for finding and starting an app? I understand fully why having multiple apps on the screen is a good thing, but when you want to start one why not immediately use the entire screen so you don't have to navigate through submenus?

              Ever noticed how most users click the icons on their desktop to start applications? They know where they are by spacial memory or looking for icons, not by reading the labels. I know it annoys people who obsessively keep their desktop clear of icons and arrange their start menu meticulously like I do, but it seems to work quite well for a lot of people. The start screen is just an advanced version of that.

              I *like* submenus. It lets me group my programs however I want, and any single group is accessible right from the top level (unlike the Win8 philosophy). I don't have to choose whether my computer will primarily be used for image/video, socializing, office work, gaming, development, etc. etc. and then try to arrange my program groups so that the top 30 or so programs fit onto the first page (really fun on a netbook). With the start menu, I have access to any and all of these capabilities in a maximum of

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:51PM (#44117443)

          Start -> All Programs was a complete disaster -- lets put a hierarchy of everything installed on your computer in a small non-resizable popup menu.

          To be fair, though, a LOT of that problem stems from companies making installers that seem to "helpfully" assume that you FIRST want to sort your applications by company name rather than, say, "Games", "Internet", "Graphics", "System", etc, and then the application or a company name under THAT. Did you just install four games, three graphics programs, and two system tools, each by different companies? Guess what? You've now got nine brand new top-level folders, each containing one program icon, one to three readmes, and maybe an uninstaller! Because that makes sense, right? Now keep going until you've got sixty or seventy top-level programs.

          It wasn't so much that All Programs was a disaster, it was companies using it as secondary advertising space on your desktop.

          • by djdanlib (732853)

            You know... you actually have a point, now that I think about it that way... But it's always been like that.

            Back in Win 3 Program Manager days, I'd make groups for each type of application, and move the icons appropriately. Sometimes I'd do folders on the desktop in Win95, but I gave up on that entirely in Win98 days and you're totally right - it got crapped up really bad by WinXP days. Then they ruined All Programs even more in Vista onwards by fixing the size and not letting it breathe horizontally at all

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      All it does is pull up the "start screen" The perfectly designed start menu from Win 7 is gone for good.

      Microsoft: Fuck you

    • by rot26 (240034) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:01PM (#44116975) Homepage Journal
      This is not the start button you were looking for.
    • by WaffleMonster (969671) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:35PM (#44117303)

      That's the phrase everyone has wanted to hear, including myself. Microsoft may have backpedaled, but that was the right thing to do.

      This is so disingenuous that it qualifies as an outright lie.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      But they did not actually return the start button, though it does pop up something that looks like one if your mouse is in the right place. They absolutely do not return the start menu, which was what customers were really asking for.

      This is essentially an insult in many ways. They're saying "we heard loud and clear that you wanted a .1 added to the product version, so here you go".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:25PM (#44116663)

    I bought a Windows Vista 5 years ago. The first one exploded to blew my hand off. The next one killed my dog. It wouldn't support my joystick from 1986. The wifi screwed up and sterilized my nuts.

    Overall I was left with a really bad feeling about all Microsoft products, which obviously must all have similar defects. Anecdotes by unverifiable semi-anonymous internet posters prove that to be true.

  • by Secret Agent Man (915574) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:28PM (#44116687) Homepage

    The biggest thing is the fact that you can search all sections (Apps, Settings, Files) with a single search bar now. No more having to type, mouse-move, click, and then find the option I want! Plus, you can disable the "also search Bing" nonsense, thankfully.

    I already run using 0 Metro apps, and live mostly in the Desktop space (truth be told, due to my Windows Key + type letters + hit 'enter' style of start menu usage, the start screen doesn't bother me). I'm glad I'll be able to boot straight to desktop, which will further distance myself from the Metro experience.

    • by g0bshiTe (596213) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:30PM (#44116729)
      I have all that too it's called Windows 7.
      • Agreed, taking steps backwards is never a good thing. I still really can't recommend anyone do an upgrade to Windows 8. However, when getting a new machine and planning to put a Windows OS on it? I'd say 8 (the performance and under-the-hood buffs are nothing to sneeze at, in my experience).
    • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:37PM (#44116799)

      Plus, you can disable the "also search Bing" nonsense, thankfully.

      Good, I was concerned this would be a gaping privacy hole. On the original Windows 8.1 post on the Windows Blog, I asked the Microsoft rep several times whether this would be optional and he said he didn't know yet and that an answer would be forthcoming. (Not usually an encouraging sign.) Having *local* searches automatically send a http request to Bing (and, presumably, the NSA) isn't something that I think most Windows users want.

  • No Aero then? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Twinbee (767046) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:28PM (#44116693) Homepage
    I was hoping for Aero, or at least the option of Aero. I dislike the 'flatland' look for clarity reasons (distinguishing elements from one another).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:28PM (#44116701)

    This release is actually just a re-branding of Windows 98 SE. If you previously purchased Windows 98 SE I strongly suggest you use that.

  • Grid layouts (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reapy (688651) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:29PM (#44116705)

    I really hate them. It is some modern UI koolaid everyone has been drinking apparently. The multsized grids are really hard for me to locate information. The only thing they seem to be good at is forcing me to scan over advertisements before I find what I want to get to, which might be the point, and the reason I hate them.

    • by Myria (562655) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:14PM (#44117111)

      It's pretty clear that Microsoft considers desktop applications - and the accompanying Win32 API - to be obsolete. Windows 8 effectively is telling developers "my way or the highway", but seriously, people generally dislike Metro applications. Could you imagine PhotoShop having to be a Metro application?

      Microsoft Windows 8 and 8.1 should have been renamed Microsoft Window.

      The Start screen, even in 8.1, is effectively keyboard-based for me. I run programs in 8 by hitting control-escape to bring up the Start screen, then start typing the name of the program I want. To search through the icons is just about impossible.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:29PM (#44116707)

    ...who views Microsoft as a corporation with disgust due to all the immoral, illegal and downright reprehensible acts they have committed over the years to maintain their monopoly position, I'd just like to thank them for Windows 8.x, which will probably do more to damage them than the toothless DoJ ever could.

  • Why do people 'want' to be abused by a monopoly that does everything to make your computer cost you more? Where is the value proposition for windows 8.1? There is so much software available for so many different platforms, that Microsoft having 'the' platform no longer matters. Developers no longer need Microsoft. Better open source tools are available. Anyone buying into Windows 8.1 is buying into a niche product. Why would anyone do that?
    • by atlasdropperofworlds (888683) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:33PM (#44116765)
      They want it because they can use things like office or the creative suite. They want it because it allows for far cheaper systems than their one main competitor (the other greedy, immoral company), they want it because games are written for it and it runs without issue on their gaming rigs.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by EvanED (569694)

      As someone who uses Windows at home, there are two main reasons:

      1.) Games
      2.) I use Linux at work, and it's nice to have my OS piss me off in different ways depending on where I am

  • or do you have to wipe the machine clean to install the actual Windows 8.1?
  • Can anybody find anything useful on how exactly this 'driver model' works? Microsoft's page [microsoft.com] could hardly be less informative.

    What's the intermediate format that software interacts with to define the print job before sending it off? What interface does the device-specific driver interact with, etc, etc?

    Obviously, not having 3d printers be handled entirely by a specific application is a noble goal; but there are, even after years and years of polishing and development, some truly horrible things living in the

  • by Guano_Jim (157555) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:40PM (#44116825)

    That's pretty cool. One of the things that needs to happen for 3D printing to become commonplace is to take it out of the realm of specialized software and just make it a mundane action one does with a computer.

    Click, print. Heads up Apple, Microsoft is preparing to drink your milkshake on this one.

  • by Chas (5144) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:42PM (#44116843) Homepage Journal

    Sorry, but until I'm able to completely deactivate the context-destroying, time and scren real-estate wasting Start Screen altogether, Windows 8 (sans 3rd party Start Menu add-ons), is nothing more than a toy.

    Yes, I understand that menus are an creeping problem when adding functionality.
    Yes, I understand that they're limited when implementing touch interfaces.

    I DON'T GIVE A SHIT!

    I don't use touch interfaces on anything larger than my phone, and even then, my current phone has a fallback to a physical keyboard. I have no use for them on a desktop or even a laptop. NONE.
    I'm concerned about productivity FULL STOP. A menu system enables me to do more, faster. Especially with keyboard shortcuts (many of which were completely annihilated when they removed menus altogether in 8).
    Managing systems remotely with the Win8/Server2012 interface is a complete pain in the balls, as the "hot corner" functionality for pulling up the various charms bars and other crap have a strong tendency to just not work, or work extremely sporadically in remote management situations. Yes yes. I could learn all the goofy new keyboard shortcuts. A menu system would still be more straightforward and functional.

    Microsoft is acting like a kid who's been told to clean his room.
    They've basically put it off as long as they can.
    Now they're just going to kick some stuff under the bed and other general half-assery and hope it's sufficient.

    It isn't. Period.

  • Good, bad, and ugly (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JDG1980 (2438906) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:50PM (#44116901)

    The good:

    • The Start button is available again.
    • Hot corners can be turned off.
    • You can now boot straight to the desktop.
    • The context menu for the Start button now has shutdown options.
    • High-DPI support is supposed to be better now (though third-party developers will still figure out ways to break this).

    The bad:

    • The real start menu still isn't back, and the Metro start screen is nowhere near as good – it's more obtrusive and less functional.
    • The window titlebar text is still centered, with no supported way to put it back to left-justified. For those of us who have been using Windows for years, this is a very annoying change since it breaks the muscle memory of our eyes. When I've tried Windows 8, I always find myself looking at the wrong place to see a window title.
    • There's still no supported way to get back the Aero theme. I understand why people with tablets or low-powered laptops might want an interface that doesn't stress the GPU as much, but why should desktop users have to suffer through something that looks like it's straight out of 1995? The Windows 8 theme is the UI equivalent of brutalism – those ugly bare concrete buildings that architects were putting up in the 1970s.

    The ugly:

    • Metro. Or, as I call it, the Knots Landing user interface [youtube.com]. Seriously, you shouldn't be looking to the theme songs of 1980s soap operas as your inspiration for UI design...
  • Still don't want... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bearhouse (1034238) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:53PM (#44116923)

    Well, in my usual attempt to stay current despite my greying neckbeard, I was prepared to tryout this regardless of the hatestorm regarding the new UI. Hell, maybe I could work around that in exchange for the alleged increased performance?

    Downloaded the "upgrade assistant" which helpfully informed me that my nicely-tuned Windows 7 PCs (both 32 and 64 bit) would require shitloads of work, (some hardware 'might not work' and several screenfuls of software would 'not function' or 'require an upgrade').

    Oh yes, and all of this for the modest sum of Euros 250-plus...
    Per PC.

    So, no thanks...

    (I keeping trying to "like" the latest versions of Linux too - Mint is OK- but am sticking with BSD for my severs...maybe I'm not hip enough, or maybe I've finally realised there's more to life than fucking around with stuff when what you have works fine.)

  • My parents bought a Win8 AIO monstrosity, it was nightly support calls.
    I bought them a copy of Start8 and showed them how to get to the desktop - now all is better.
  • by amoeba1911 (978485) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:56PM (#44116939) Homepage

    You don't need Windows 8.1 to fix the problems in Windows 8.
    What you need is three programs:

    I had to get Windows 8 for work and there wasn't much choice. I struggled with it until I found those. I don't need Windows 8.1, Microsoft can go to hell.

  • by Deep Esophagus (686515) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:02PM (#44116987)

    Seriously? Why on earth would anybody consider those an intrinsic part of the operating system? If I want to access mail from my computer, I either pull up an application that handles mail (for POP3) or a web browser. If I want to play or edit or do whatever with music, I install an application designed to do those things.

    How about if my operating system just sticks to the job of system operations?

  • by WillgasM (1646719) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:09PM (#44117061) Homepage
    I need my workgroups.
  • Lipstick on a Pig (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Luthair (847766) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:21PM (#44117173)

    Unfortunately these are largely cosmetic changes and won't fix what many users (particularly those of us found on slashdot) actually have an issue with. There are a few concessions to regular users who need visual hints like a start button, however for the power user virtually everything wrong with Windows 8 is wrong with Windows 8.1. An OS designed for touch devices shoehorned onto everything in a vain attempt to make users familiar with it so they'll choose Microsoft for the phone and tablet purchases.

    Not to mention they're introducing a search behaviour which sends terms out to the Internet, just like Canonical has done with Ubuntu. I'm surprised about the lack of outcry about the privacy implications.

    Now that I've angered the Windows-8 fanbase I'll irritate everyone else - unfortunately in my estimation the only desktop alternative is KDE while still clunky it is superior to OSX (design predicated on a stupid user), Unity (OSX clone), Gnome (also predicated on a dumb user) while the remainder are missing modern features.

  • Icon jungle (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jones_supa (887896) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:31PM (#44117277)
    I hate this trend with Windows 8 and Unity where instead of having your apps and files nicely organized in their respective folders, you have this chaotic jumble of icons which you have to be searching through all the time.
  • by andrewa (18630) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:40PM (#44117351)
    if it's not yet available to the general public? I got a message stating that the ISOs are not yet available when just going to the MSDN site. I have an MSDN subscription for OS & Dev tools, and was able to download it. Seems like a strange thing to make a public announcement and then be told it's not *actually* ready for public download yet.
  • by GrBear (63712) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:41PM (#44117361)

    Windows 8.1 is a nice attempt to polish a turd, but it's going to take more than hanging an air freshener off this corpse to make it live once again.

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