This is a continuation-in-part of co-pending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/632,474, filed on Aug. 4, 2000, incorporated by reference herein, which itself claims priority to co-pending U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/314,128, filed on May 19, 1999, incorporated by reference herein.
 1. Field of the Invention
 This invention relates to an improved method for displaying messages on a display driven by an electronic device that has a graphical user interface, and more particularly to a method of displaying messages to which the user's attention will be drawn. The invention further relates to a centralized notification system and method that receives and manages notification alerts containing notification data from a variety of resources, and generates and distributes interactive notifications to a variety of recipients.
 2. Description of the Related Art
 Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) are widely used means of displaying output information on a computer or other electronic device. With the advent of high resolution video processing and larger diagonal size display technology, large amounts of information can be displayed on the computer screen at one time. Growth of usage of the global Internet has been driven by creation of and demand for interactive content such as, e.g., World Wide Web pages downloaded from a server to a client computer and displayed on the client computer using the GUI and other software such as a web browser. Other content such as audio, video, streaming, and other data can be displayed using a GUI.
 The advanced video processing and display technology, Internet connectivity and GUIs enable large amounts of information content to be sent to and displayed to a client user. For example, web pages can contain large amounts of interactive content such as text, images, animation, video, audio and hyperlinks to other content. Examples of hyperlinks can include underlined text or graphical images which can be selected to branch to the other content.
 Included in such interactive content can be, e.g., advertising content such as, e.g., ad messages. Ad messages permit the client user to “click-through” to the sponsor of the web page by selecting a hyperlink. Advertising servers can be used to track client user traffic and to present targeted ad messages within a web page, by using such technologies as “cookies,” ad servers, and demographic global profiling services such as, e.g., ProfileServer 4.0 available from Engage Technologies, Inc. of Andover, Massachusetts, and DART available from DoubleClick. Advertising revenue can be used to support further content development.
 Unfortunately, conventional web sites provide such vast amounts of data on a given web page that advertising messages or “trees” can be lost in the “forest” of information provided by a web page to the client user. Evidence of the ineffective reach of conventional Internet advertising messages is seen in the decreasing click through rates observed by traffic tracking companies. Similarly, in television applications, viewers often tape programs and use fast-forwarding technology to skip commercials. Attempts to respond to the challenge of providing advertising and other messages that are not easily overlooked have unfortunately fallen short. For example, pop up web pages, such as those provided by free web hosting sites are intrusive and are often closed by client users leaving negative rather than positive impressions. These self-appearing screens, or dialog boxes (i.e. Windows), are even more problematic for the users of a running application or network-based service since dialog boxes take control of the desktop environment for a specific period of time and interrupt the continued operation of any running application or network-based service. Users, especially those working in highly productive environments such as network management or any other mission critical environment (e.g., nuclear power plant, emergency medical facility, call centers, etc.) are subject to on-going applications and/or service interrupt whenever new information, messages or other data are displayed on the display screen of their particular electronic device. To complicate matters, the message area of self-appearing screens, or dialog boxes (e.g., Windows), often command a large portion of on-screen “real-estate” or space and can prevent a user from achieving greater productivity and data visibility within a particular computing environment.
 Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) include a cursor icon, such as, e.g., a mouse pointer, to permit a user to click on particular information. Comet Cursor, available from Comet Systems, Inc. of New York, N.Y., provides a cursor icon which can be presented as a corporate logo, for example. Unfortunately however, the Comet Cursor is limited to only the 32 by 32 pixel-sized cursor icon area. Also, the cursor lacks a provision to enable a user to act upon an impulse to purchase or to gather additional information about the company or product represented by the cursor icon in the shape of a corporate or product logo.
 Accordingly, there is a need for an improved message and advertising delivery system that can focus a user's attention on the message and/or advertising material while ensuring that the user's ability to perform traditional functions is not impeded. There is a further need for an improved cursor icon system which can permit a client user to take action based on content shown on a cursor icon. There is also a further need for an improved messaging display and delivery system that can enable a user to conveniently receive and access data and related applications, and collaborate with other users, without interfering with the operation of running applications or services.
 There is also a need for a centralized notification system and method in a client-server environment that receives events and generates and delivers interactive notifications to end-users. There is additionally a need to provide end-users with time-critical information at the exact moment that the information is needed without interfering with applications and services that are already in use by the end-user. There is a further need to provide end-users with direct access to the resource that originated the notification, or to another resource that can assist a user in completing a task associated with the notification.
 A feature of this invention is the provision of a method for displaying messages such as advertising messages on an electronic device's display or content viewing device (e.g., a television, a computer or a TV set top box) which draws the attention of the user to the message. A related feature of the invention draws attention to the message with little or no distraction of the user from his or her overall operation.
 A further advantage of the invention is the provision of an improved method for displaying messages while materials are being downloaded from, e.g., a World Wide Web server or other server to a client.
 Still another advantage of the invention is the provision to allow a user to access directly a web site linked to the message and/or to access an expanded or enlarged version of the message.
 Briefly, this invention contemplates the provision of a method in which a message is displayed in relation to or adjacent to the cursor icon on a computer driven display with a graphic user interface. In response to user commanded movement of the icon, the message moves as the icon moves, staying in relation to or adjacent to it so that the message stays with the user's focus of attention. This message or cursor movable interactive message is referred to herein as an image, a message or a trailing message. The message can automatically disappear when it would distract the user. In a specific embodiment of the invention, the message is an advertising message, which can be downloaded and updated from particular locations on the World Wide Web.
 In a detailed example embodiment, a method for displaying a message on a computer, a television, a handheld device (e.g., a personal digital assistant), a wireless device (e.g., mobile/cellular phone, Wireless Application Protocol enabled mobile phone), or other electronic device driven display that includes a graphical user interface, including the steps of storing the message at a computer or other electronic device, displaying the message in relation to or adjacent to a cursor icon of the graphical user interface (GUI), and moving the message as the cursor icon moves in response to user commanded movement of the cursor icon so that the message stays in relation to or adjacent to the cursor icon, is described.
 In another embodiment, the method further includes a step of extinguishing the message when the message could distract the user. In an alternative embodiment, the method further includes repositioning, reorienting, dissolving away, fading, or vanishing from, display of the message for a period of time when the cursor icon is placed over an on-screen area. In another embodiment, the message area includes an input field, an edge of the display, a hyperlink text field, a hyperlink image, a program icon, or a program button.
 In another embodiment, the message can include a distinctive image. In yet another, the distinctive image features a stop sign, another geometric polygon, or a trademarked shape.
 In one embodiment, the method further includes the step of reorienting the message for a period of time, when the cursor icon is placed over an on-screen area. Another embodiment includes a reorienting step with a feature that moves the message toward a center point of the GUI when the on-screen area is an edge of the display.
 Another embodiment of the invention includes a method for enabling a user to hyperlink from a message displayed on a cursor icon of a graphical user interface (GUI) for a computer or other electronic device, including the steps of storing the message on the computer or other electronic device, displaying the message as part of the cursor icon of the GUI, and enabling the message of the cursor icon to link to hyperlinked information. In another embodiment, the hyperlinked information provides more detailed information. In yet another embodiment, the hyperlinked information links to an additional site.
 In another embodiment, the message includes an advertisement. Another embodiment includes a message having an instruction explaining how the user can link to the hyperlinked information.
 The present invention, roughly described, also provides a method for enabling a positional identifier to interact with an animated element in a trailing message on a display screen to become an interactive part of an application program linked to the animated element. The method enables users to integrate enhanced alert notification and messaging functions into any existing application program without any substantial redevelopment costs. Significantly, the trailing message is used as an interactive data “receptacle” or utility or notification agent that runs in the background of an electronic device to alert and notify a user of an event without interrupting a given application program and/or network service currently being used by the user. Thus, the trailing message is used to receive, send and respond to any type of aggregate data and display such data in the individually animated “ghost” window or object positioned in relation to the cursor icon.
 The message area remains invisible to the user's eye (i.e. an interactive ghost window or object) and the message, for example, is displayed on an as needed basis in response to any activity on an electronic device, network, or other specified data source. The method thus provides users with, non-intrusive, real-time notification and messaging capability in any given computing environment where the receipt of new data does not necessarily result in work stoppages until the user wishes to act on the notification or message. When the user wishes to respond, the method provides users with direct access to the original application program that triggered the notification or message. The method provides users with a more integrated environment for improved information exchange and collaboration and enables continuous applications/service availability and maximum event/data visibility and transparency for increased user convenience.
 In one aspect, direct access to the original application program that triggered the alert notification is enabled via a touch screen. In a further aspect, direct access to the original application program is enabled via voice activation (i.e., IVR technology). In yet a further aspect, the method is implemented in a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) enabled environment to facilitate real-time, two-way notification, messaging and data capability with any Internet enabled device or other networked appliance.
 Another aspect of the present invention includes a centralized notification system and method. The centralized notification system receives and manages notification alerts from a variety of resources, and generates and distributes interactive notifications to a variety of clients. The clients display the interactive notifications to the end-user as an interactive sprite. The receipt and display of the interactive sprite does not interfere with operations of the end-user. Further, the interactive sprite is designed to provide the end-user with access to the resource that originated the notification, or to another resource that can assist the end-user in completing a task associated with the notification.
 The present invention can be implemented using software, hardware, or a combination of software and hardware. When all or portions of the present invention are implemented in software, that software can reside on a processor readable storage medium. Examples of an appropriate processor readable storage medium include a floppy disk, hard disk, CD-ROM, memory IC, etc. The hardware used to implement the present invention includes an output device (e.g., a monitor or printer), an input device (e.g., a keyboard, pointing device, etc.), a processor in communication with the output device and processor readable storage medium in communication with the processor.
 The processor readable storage medium stores code capable of programming the processor to perform the steps to implement the present invention. In one aspect, the present invention may comprise a dedicated processor including processor instructions for performing the steps the implement the present invention. In a further aspect, the present invention can be implemented on a web page on the Internet or on a server that can be accessed over communication lines. These and other objects and advantages of the invention will appear more clearly from the following detailed description in which a preferred embodiment of the invention has been set forth in conjunction with the drawings.
 The foregoing and other features and advantages of the invention will be apparent from the following, more particular description of a preferred embodiment of the invention, as illustrated in the accompanying drawings.
 The preferred embodiment of the invention is discussed in detail below. While specific implementations are discussed, it should be understood that this is done for illustration purposes only. A person skilled in the relevant art will recognize that other components and configurations may be used without parting from the spirit and scope of the invention.
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 The trailing message can be displayed in a standard format as trailing message
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 Various methods can be used to link to hyperlinks in a trailing message. The user can be prompted by instructions included in the message. One exemplar method of linking to a hyperlink uses a pressing of a key or a combination of keys in order to release the cursor icon from the message to permit the clicking of the cursor icon onto a hyperlink of the message to activate the link. In a specific example embodiment of the invention, an instruction can be provided to the user instructing how to release the cursor icon (using, e.g., the control key to release the cursor) from the message to permit using the cursor icon to select a link of the message to hyperlink information.
 Trailing message
 Trailing message
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 In one embodiment of the invention, an image
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 At this point, the cursor icon
 It will be apparent to those skilled in the art that image
 In one embodiment, cursor icons can also be shown in the form of, for example, a product logo, a corporate logo, or a trademarked shape or design. In another embodiment of the invention, a cursor icon
 Referring again to trailing message
 Accordingly, one way to use a trailing message as a link can be to have the user access the control menu by clicking on the right hand button of the mouse. The user can use a set of instructions placed on the trailing message in order to easily perform this function. In this example, the user can see the instruction “Click Right to Link.” Once the control menu is accessed by clicking on the right hand button on the mouse, the user can select the command menu item in the control menu action list that can allow the user to access and use the trailing message as a link. This access command menu item can be placed on the control menu action list. The menu
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 When a user selects the “Click on image” command menu item
 If the user does not quickly release the “Click on image” command menu item
 This system can also provide the user with an option to view a more detailed version of the trailing message
 If the user does not want to access a link on this message
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 Standard example methods that can provide Internet users with direct access to links include, e.g., a primary and secondary method. Using the primary method, users can open links by placing the cursor icon directly over Internet hyperlink images or text and then “clicking” directly on such linked information using a left hand button of the mouse. This method can be referred to as the standard Internet “point and click” method. Using the secondary method, users can open links by placing the cursor icon directly over Internet hyperlink images or text and then can perform two steps. First, the control menu action list can be accessed by clicking on the right hand button of the mouse. Second, scrolling down to the corresponding command menu item within the control menu action list to the selection that provides access to the link. This method is not the standard method used by most Internet users since it could require additional steps than the primary method.
 In order to open a link, the user can place the cursor icon over a hyperlink image or underlined text. Once the cursor icon is placed over the hyperlink image or underlined text, the user can click on the left hand button of the mouse control in order to proceed to another web page. This is the standard “Point and Click” method used by the majority of Internet users. In order to open a link, the user can place the cursor icon over a hyperlink image or underlined text.
 Once the control menu is accessed by clicking on the right hand button on the mouse, the user can select the command in the menu selection that allows the user to open the selected link. In this case, the user can select “Open Link” in order to access the link and proceed to another web page. This method is rarely used by Internet users since it can require additional steps beyond the simple “point and click” procedure.
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 Removable storage unit
 Computer programs (also called computer control logic), including object oriented computer programs, are stored in main memory
 In another embodiment, the invention is directed to a computer program product comprising a computer readable medium having control logic (computer software) stored therein. The control logic, when executed by the processor
 In yet a further aspect, the invention provides a method for enabling a positional identifier (e.g., a cursor icon) to interact with an animated element in a trailing message on a display screen to become an interactive part of an application program linked to the animated element. The method enables users to integrate enhanced notification, messaging and data functions into any application program or any computing environment without incurring substantial redevelopment costs. Significantly, the method notifies users of events or other data without the use of a dialog box, or other such mechanisms, that utilize computing resources which interfere with the continuous operation of running applications or other network-based services. Importantly, the method enables the user to continuously utilize an application or service while concurrently receiving new information or data. In this way, the present invention enables users to continue working until they choose to respond to such messages or data.
 However, when a data event occurs that triggers the delivery of new information into the trailing message area and its display on the screen of a particular electronic device, the present invention permits users to respond immediately by providing direct access to the original application that triggered the notification or message. The present invention thus facilitates a two-way, interactive notification, messaging and data capability that not only notifies a user of a specific event, but also enables the user to respond immediately to the application that triggered the data communication by directly accessing the triggering application through the trailing message. In this respect, the present invention is utilized as an interactive data “receptacle” or utility or notification agent that runs in the background of any electronic device and can be profiled to accept any kind of aggregated data to facilitate the flow of information and data within any electronic computing environment or other networked environment.
 In one aspect of the present invention, the user can directly access the triggering application by right-clicking a mouse device to activate a command menu including a direct link to the triggering application. In a further aspect, the user can directly access the triggering application by depressing a key or combination of keys on a keyboard device. In still a further aspect, the user can directly access the triggering application by depressing a portion of a display screen that is responsive to a user's touch. In yet a further aspect, the user's voice can be used to directly access the triggering application.
 The trading of stocks is a good example. Consider, for example, a user currently working on a presentation in Microsoft's PowerPoint®. The user wishes to buy 100 shares of IBM stock, but only when the price of IBM stock goes down to $100/share (i.e., a time-critical event). Rather than having to constantly monitor the price of IBM stock by visiting, for example, E-Trade's® real-time stock quote service, and enduring constant work interruptions, the user could simply integrate the enhanced alert notification capability of the present invention into PowerPoint® and E-Trade's (stock quote service.
 Thereafter, if and when the price of IBM stock dips to $100/share, the quote service generates an alert notification message that would immediately appear on the user's presentation, the message being displayed in relation to the cursor so as to track any user-initiated movements of the cursor. The user could then, for example, touch a portion of the display screen where the message appears and the user is transported directly to the E-Trade® trade execution screen where the user could proceed to purchase the 100 shares of IBM stock.
 The updating of new IT repository information is another good example. Consider, for example, a high-level technical executive (e.g., CIO) working in a complex Network and Systems Management (NSM) environment. The user wishes to receive notifications regarding competitive data, vendor agreements, NSM data, or changes in any other type of specified repository IT data. Rather than having to continuously search through various information repositories, or continuously keep a specific information console (e.g., window) displayed in order to monitor current activities and endure constant work interruptions through the display of notification dialog boxes, the user could simply integrate the enhanced notification and messaging capability of the present invention into the NSM environment (e.g., an events correlation engine or manager) and the other applications where the relevant data resides. The present invention would enable the user to conveniently receive and access the relevant data without enduring any applications or services interrupt and more importantly, allow the user to respond to the displayed data when the user chooses to do so.
 Another example of the use of this aspect of the present invention is in the context of interactive collaboration and knowledge sharing computing environments. The present invention could notify or alert a current participant engaged in an interactive session (e.g., remote document review, selling presentation, etc.) in progress with multiple users or participants that a new mission-critical event (e.g., an urgent instant message or telephone call is being transmitted) or change in information (e.g., a particular document has been revised without proper authorization) has occurred that requires instant notification of a specific user (e.g., the session manager) but without causing any interruptions to the ongoing interactive work session. The notified user could then, for example, right-click the mouse to activate a command menu having, within, an option to accept the new instant message or telephone call and activate the triggering notification application.
 Another example of the use of this aspect of the present invention is in the context of interactive video gaming. The present invention could notify or alert current players of a game in progress that a new player(s) would like to enter without causing any interruptions or stoppages to the game. Any one of the current players could then, for example, depress a key on a game console to activate a command menu having, within, an option to accept or reject the new player.
 In yet another example, a network administrator using the present invention could be instantly alerted to any given problem on the network regardless of the application that the administrator may be working in. If the problem is minor, the administrator could ignore the alert notification and simply continue working without interruption. However, if it is a major problem that requires immediate and instant attention, the administrator could, for example, speak a predetermined phrase (e.g., “show me the problem”) to directly access the application where the problem resides or to the application that triggered the alert notification.
 In still a further aspect, the present invention is implemented in a WAP enabled device or appliance. Accordingly, the present invention can provide any such device or appliance with real-time alert notification, messaging and data capabilities to facilitate two-way communication and transaction functionality anywhere, any time.
 In yet a further aspect, the cursor icon of the present invention comprises a highlighted area of the screen moved in relation to at least one of a mouse, a remote control device, a directional key, and a selector. The remote control can include, for example, a remote control for a television. Such a remote control device could also use a pointer mechanism to allow the viewer to navigate the TV screen and “double-clicking” selected options to activate or access information (much like a desktop mouse pointer), rather than using a highlighted area to navigate a command menu.
 As the development and deployment of the Cable TV Modem or Direct Link to the cable network become more prevalent more resources will be available to the viewing public. The television has become a “standard” in most American homes and has become a true multi-use device. The present invention may be used in conjunction with game consoles with telephone modems, cable modems and direct TV interfaces, as well as TV set-top devices that connect the viewer directly to the Internet or Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).
 Specifically, by integrating current services in the picture-in-picture technology (or another designated location such as the standard on-screen menu) alert notification can be delivered to the TV to alert the viewer to various messages or events that the viewer may otherwise miss. The user could then choose to either respond or not respond by using at least one positional indicator (e.g., an arrow) to navigate an associated menu. For example, the alert could be used to interactively notify the viewer of an emergency, connect the viewer to the appropriate emergency service and arrange for transportation out of the affected area; all with a click of the remote control unit, a directional key, or a selector.
 The present invention could also operate in a telephony environment. The television, cable box, cable modem, or game console combination (any of the three with a TV) can be connected to the dial tone provider and become an extension of the telephony service the viewer currently has. Accordingly, caller ID, call blocking and other enhanced services provided by the LEC (Local Exchange Carrier) could be integrated into an alert on the TV. The viewer could be watching television when a phone call is received. An alert window could, for example, pop up on the TV in a pre-selected area with caller's ID and notify the viewer of the call type.
 If the call is acceptable the viewer can either pick up a phone device or use the TV as a speakerphone to complete the call. The background program would be muted or the game could be paused, etc. If, however, the call is an unwanted intrusion (e.g., a predictive dialer “spamming” the viewer with advertisements, a blocked call, or a general nuisance call), the viewer could invoke an application that is resident on the cable box to block the call, generate a prerecorded message (e.g., “I'm sorry this call is unacceptable, please remove my name from your list”) or a Dual Tone Multi Frequency (DTMF) signal to end the call. The system could then block any future calls from the same source.
 The interactive alert window could be utilized in many different applications, ranging from call screening to hazard call identification (e.g., stalkers, menace callers, etc.). The next logical projection is interactive TV, gaming and education. This interactive alert window could be implemented in firmware in, for example, the TV set top box so as to be “resident” to the set top box and not a “visitor.” This would allow other companies to integrate their applications into the trailing message “data receptacle”.
 Another aspect of the present invention includes a centralized notification that can operate in a client-server environment. A typical client-server environment is depicted in
 A centralized notification system in accordance with the present invention receives and manages notification alerts from a variety of resources, and generates and distributes interactive notifications over a communication link to a variety of clients. The client presents an interactive notification to an end-user as an interactive sprite. The interactive sprite can also be presented directly through a display coupled to the server. The receipt and presentation of the interactive sprite does not interfere with programs executing on the client. Further, the interactive sprite is designed to provide the end-user with access to the resource that originated the notification, or to another resource that can assist the end-user in completing a task associated with the notification.
 The centralized notification system monitors the communication link for notification alerts. Notification alerts may be generated in response to specific events, and may contain data regarding such events. For example, a notification alert can be generated in response to a computer network problem or receipt of an instant message, e-mail or telephone call. A notification alert can also be generated in response to a time critical event, such as an auction bid or stock quote. The notification system is customizable, such that a user can specify which events trigger notification alerts.
 Upon receipt of a notification alert, the centralized notification system generates and delivers an interactive notification to a specified client or clients. The notification system can support an unlimited number of clients. Each supported client has at least one notification device associated with it, and is capable of supporting several notification devices.
 A notification device is a piece of equipment capable of receiving and presenting the interactive notification to an end-user. This notification device can be a device associated with a client connected to a server over a communication link, or can be a device that resides on the same equipment as the server. Examples of notification devices include devices with electronic displays, such as computers, two-way pagers, cellular telephones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), BlackBerries™, televisions, wireless devices, and other electronic devices. Each individual notification device is assigned a device type that is used by the notification system to determine the method of delivery and format of the interactive notification.
 The interactive notification generated by the notification system provides an end-user with direct access to a resource designated by the notification system. The designated resource can be the program that originated the notification alert. The designated resource can also be another program that can assist an end-user in completing a task associated with or responding to the notification alert. Importantly, the receipt and presentation of an interactive notification does not interrupt or interfere with the current operations or running applications of the client.
 Further, the data presented by the interactive notification can be static or dynamic. For example, in a on-line stock trading situation, the interactive notification can be static and present a stock value at a precise moment in time, or the interactive notification can be dynamic, and provide real-time updates of a fluctuating stock value.
 The notification system presents the interactive notification without interference or interruption to the end-user as an “interactive sprite.” An interactive sprite is a graphic image, or object, that resides in the foreground of an electronic display, and provides an end-user access a program or resource. An interactive sprite can operate on a visual plane that is separate from and “on top of” other content presented on an electronic display.
 An interactive sprite differs from a conventional dialog box in the manner that it is processed by a computing system. A computer operating system manages the events and activities that occur during a computing session, including the use and display of dialog boxes as they appear on a user's screen. Whenever an event occurs and a dialog box is used to display the information, a mechanism known as an “interrupt” is generated. The placement of an interrupt occurs every time a dialog box appears on the screen. When this occurs, the operation of the user's running applications are stopped, and the user is inconveniently unable to proceed with work. When this stoppage occurs, the user is required to respond to the dialog box in order to restart the use of the running applications.
 Unlike a conventional dialog box, an interactive sprite is managed by a centralized notification system. In this manner, the interactive sprite does not utilize an interrupt when its is generated and displayed. By using an interactive sprite, the notification system displays an interactive notification in the foreground visual plane of a user's electronic display without causing any interruption or stoppage in the operation of a user's applications.
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 It should be understood that the particular embodiments described above are only illustrative of the principles of the present invention, and various modifications could be made by those skilled in the art without departing from the scope and spirit of the invention. Thus, the scope of the present invention is limited only by the claims that follow.