The Surface Duo’s two-year-old Android OS will be updated sometime this year

If Microsoft wants to be taken seriously as an Android manufacturer, one of the things it will need to establish is a track record of reliable, on-time software updates. But as the company launches a second generation of the Surface Duo and the company’s first Android phone turns a year old, so far Microsoft has failed to impress.

The Surface Duo 1 shipped in September 2020 with Android 10, which was a full year old at the time, and Android 11 had already launched. The hope was that Microsoft would quickly update the Duo to the latest version of Android, but that never happened. Today the device is still running Android 10, which is now two years old, and Android 12 is about to ship. Microsoft has finally broken its silence about Surface Duo 1 updates, and the company tells The Verge it plans to update the device to Android 11 “before the end of this year.”

Assuming Microsoft follows through on its promise, the company’s $1,400 flagship device will be updated from a two-year-old operating system to a one-year-old operating system. Microsoft committed to three years of updates, and it has been delivering monthly security updates. But this is still worst-in-class update support, especially for the price. Samsung usually rolls out Android to its latest flagship three months after Google’s release, while OnePlus usually takes around a month—Microsoft’s one-year timeframe is really bad.

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#android, #microsoft, #surface-duo, #tech, #updates

Docs startup Almanac raises $34 million from Tiger as remote work shift hardens

As companies continue to delay their returns to the office and find temporary remote work policies becoming permanent, the startups building tooling for remote work-first cultures are finding a seemingly endless supply of customers.

“Companies are finding the shift to remote work is not a one-time aberration due to Covid,” Almanac CEO Adam Nathan tells TechCrunch. “Over the past several months we’ve seen pretty explosive revenue growth.”

Almanac, which builds a doc editor that takes feature cues like version control from developer platforms like Github, has been seizing on the shift to remote work, onboarding new customers through its open source office document library Core while pushing features that allow for easier onboarding like an online company handbook builder.

In the past couple years, timelines between funding rounds have been shrinking for fast-growing startups. Almanac announced its $9 million seed round earlier this year led by Floodgate, now they’re taking the wraps off of a $34 million Series A led by the pandemic’s most prolific startup investment powerhouse — Tiger Global. Floodgate again participated in the raise, alongside General Catalyst and a host of angels.

The company wants its collaborative doc editor to be the way more companies fully embrace online productivity software, leaving local-first document editors in the dust. While Alphabet’s G Suite is a rising presence in the office productivity suite world, Microsoft Office is still the market’s dominant force.

“We see ourselves as a generational challenger to Microsoft Office,” Nathan says. “It’s not only an old product, but it’s totally outmoded for what we do to today.”

While investors have backed plenty of startups based on pandemic era trends that have already seemed to fizzle out, the growing shift away from office culture or even hybrid culture towards full remote work has only grown more apparent as employees place a premium on jobs with flexible remote policies.

Major tech companies like Facebook have found themselves gradually adjusting policies towards full-remote work for staff that can do their jobs remotely. Meanwhile, Apple’s more aggressive return-to-office plan has prompted a rare outpouring of public and private criticism from employees at the company. Nathan only expects this divide to accelerate as more companies come tor grips with the shifting reality.

“I personally don’t believe that hybrid is a thing,” he says. “You have to pick a side, you’re either office culture or ‘cloud culture.’”

#almanac, #alphabet, #articles, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #economy, #general-catalyst, #github, #human-resource-management, #major, #microsoft, #onboarding, #productivity, #recruitment, #software, #startup-company, #startups, #telecommuting, #tiger-global

Get the early-bird price on group discount passes to TC Sessions: SaaS 2021

September arrived in the blink of an eye, and October 27 — TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 to be precise — is hot on its heels. Now’s the time to gather your team and strategize how you’ll cover the day-long event to make as many connections and discover as many opportunities as possible.

Step 1: Take advantage of the early-bird group discount. When you buy passes for four or more people, you pay just $45 each — that’s $30 off each pass. Sweet!

Don’t dilly-dally or shillyshally. The early-bird price expires on October 1 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Your pass may be discounted, but you’ll get the full TC Session experience — all the speakers, demos, networking and breakout sessions. Plus, video-on-demand means you can catch up on anything you miss later, when it fits your schedule.

Check out the event agenda or read more about just some of the many people and companies coming to TC Sessions: SaaS. Note: We’re adding new speakers and presentations to the event agenda every week, and you can sign up here for updates.

As a team, you can cover more ground. Tune in to a main stage panel discussion while one colleague dives into a breakout session and another sets up a 1:1 product demo or taps CrunchMatch to connect with potential investors. You might go faster alone, but you’ll go further together.

You can bet the industry’s top experts will be in the virtual house covering both the benefits and challenges of SaaS: the Next Generation. Here are just two examples.

SaaS Security, Today and Tomorrow: Enterprises face a constant stream of threats, from nation states to cybercriminals and corporate insiders. After a year where billions worked from home and the cloud reigned supreme, startups and corporations alike can’t afford to stay off the security pulse. Edna Conway, vice president, chief security & risk officer, Azure, Microsoft and Olivia Rose CISO, VP of IT & security, Amplitude discuss what SaaS startups need to know about security now, and in the future.

How Startups are Turning Data into Software Gold: The era of big data is behind us. Today’s leading SaaS startups are working with data instead of merely fighting to help customers collect information. Jenn Knight (AgentSync), Barr Moses (Monte Carlo) and Dan Wright (DataRobot), leaders of three data-focused startups, will discuss how today’s SaaS companies leverage data to build new companies, attack new problems and, of course, scale like mad.

TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 takes place on October 27. Don’t wait — the early-bird price on the group discount offer expires October 1 at 11:59 pm (PT).

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#as-a-service, #azure, #business-models, #cloud-computing, #computing, #dan-wright, #datarobot, #jenn-knight, #microsoft, #peak, #software, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #tc-sessions-saas-2021

Big tech companies snap up smaller rivals at record pace

An FTC study showed how big Silicon Valley companies bought startups to eliminate future competitors.

Enlarge / An FTC study showed how big Silicon Valley companies bought startups to eliminate future competitors. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

The world’s largest technology companies have snapped up smaller rivals at a record pace this year in a buying spree that comes as US politicians and regulators prepare to crack down on “under the radar” deals.

Data from Refinitiv analyzed by the Financial Times show that tech companies have spent at least $264 billion buying up potential rivals worth less than $1 billion since the start of 2021—double the previous record registered in 2000 during the dotcom boom.

The glut of acquisitions comes amid much tougher scrutiny from the White House, regulators and members of Congress, who have accused large technology companies—particularly Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft—of stifling competition and harming consumers.

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#amazon, #antitrust, #apple, #facebook, #ftc, #google, #microsoft, #policy, #us

Inside GitLab’s IPO filing

While the technology and business world worked towards the weekend, developer operations (DevOps) firm GitLab filed to go public. Before we get into our time off, we need to pause, digest the company’s S-1 filing, and come to some early conclusions.

GitLab competes with GitHub, which Microsoft purchased for $7.5 billion back in 2018.

The company is notable for its long-held, remote-first stance, and for being more public with its metrics than most unicorns — for some time, GitLab had a November 18, 2020 IPO target in its public plans, to pick an example. We also knew when it crossed the $100 million recurring revenue threshold.

Considering GitLab’s more recent results, a narrowing operating loss in the last two quarters is good news for the company.

The company’s IPO has therefore been long expected. In its last primary transaction, GitLab raised $286 million at a post-money valuation of $2.75 billion, per Pitchbook data. The same information source also notes that GitLab executed a secondary transaction earlier this year worth $195 million, which gave the company a $6 billion valuation.

Let’s parse GitLab’s growth rate, its final pre-IPO scale, its SaaS metrics, and then ask if we think it can surpass its most recent private-market price. Sound good? Let’s rock.

The GitLab S-1

GitLab intends to list on the Nasdaq under the symbol “GTLB.” Its IPO filing lists a placeholder $100 million raise estimate, though that figure will change when the company sets an initial price range for its shares. Its fiscal year ends January 31, meaning that its quarters are offset from traditional calendar periods by a single month.

Let’s start with the big numbers.

In its fiscal year ended January 2020, GitLab posted revenues of $81.2 million, gross profit of $71.9 million, an operating loss of $128.4 million, and a modestly greater net loss of $130.7 million.

And in the year ended January 31, 2021, GitLab’s revenue rose roughly 87% to $152.2 million from a year earlier. The company’s gross profit rose around 86% to $133.7 million, and operating loss widened nearly 67% to $213.9 million. Its net loss totaled $192.2 million.

This paints a picture of a SaaS company growing quickly at scale, with essentially flat gross margins (88%). Growth has not been inexpensive either — GitLab spent more on sales and marketing than it generated in gross profit in the past two fiscal years.

#computing, #crowdstrike, #datadog, #ec-news-analysis, #enterprise-software, #fundings-exits, #git, #github, #gitlab, #ipo, #microsoft, #saas, #software, #software-engineering, #startups, #tc, #twilio, #version-control

Microsoft Office 2021 will be available on October 5th

Microsoft will release Office 2021, the next consumer version of its productivity suite, on October 5th. That’s the same day the company will launch Windows 11. Much like Office 2019 before it, Office 2021 is a one-time purchase that will be available on both Windows and macOS. It’s for people who don’t want to subscribe to the company’s Microsoft 365 subscription.

Microsoft promised to share more details on Office 2021 soon, but we know from reporting by The Verge’s Tom Warren that the release will feature many of the same improvements found in Office LTSC, a variant of the software the company released today for enterprise customers who can’t access the Cloud. Among other improvements, it adds accessibility features and dark mode support. We also know from a previous announcement Microsoft plans to support the software for at least five years, and that the software will work with both 32- and 64-bit systems out of the box.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

#column, #microsoft, #microsoft-office, #tc, #tceng

Confluent CEO Jay Kreps is coming to TC Sessions: SaaS for a fireside chat

As companies process ever-increasing amounts of data, moving it in real time is a huge challenge for organizations. Confluent is a streaming data platform built on top of the open source Apache Kafka project that’s been designed to process massive numbers of events. To discuss this, and more, Confluent CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps will be joining us at TC Sessions: SaaS on Oct 27th for a fireside chat.

Data is a big part of the story we are telling at the SaaS event, as it has such a critical role in every business. Kreps has said in the past the data streams are at the core of every business, from sales to orders to customer experiences. As he wrote in a company blog post announcing the company’s $250 million Series E in April 2020, Confluent is working to process all of this data in real time — and that was a big reason why investors were willing to pour so much money into the company.

“The reason is simple: though new data technologies come and go, event streaming is emerging as a major new category that is on a path to be as important and foundational in the architecture of a modern digital company as databases have been,” Kreps wrote at the time.

The company’s streaming data platform takes a multi-faceted approach to streaming and builds on the open source Kafka project. While anyone can download and use Kafka, as with many open source projects, companies may lack the resources or expertise to deal with the raw open source code. Many a startup have been built on open source to help simplify whatever the project does, and Confluent and Kafka are no different.

Kreps told us in 2017 that companies using Kafka as a core technology include Netflix, Uber, Cisco and Goldman Sachs. But those companies have the resources to manage complex software like this. Mere mortal companies can pay Confluent to access a managed cloud version or they can manage it themselves and install it in the cloud infrastructure provider of choice.

The project was actually born at LinkedIn in 2011 when their engineers were tasked with building a tool to process the enormous number of events flowing through the platform. The company eventually open sourced the technology it had created and Apache Kafka was born.

Confluent launched in 2014 and raised over $450 million along the way. In its last private round in April 2020, the company scored a $4.5 billion valuation on a $250 million investment. As of today, it has a market cap of over $17 billion.

In addition to our discussion with Kreps, the conference will also include Google’s Javier Soltero, Amplitude’s Olivia Rose, as well as investors Kobie Fuller and Casey Aylward, among others. We hope you’ll join us. It’s going to be a thought-provoking lineup.

Buy your pass now to save up to $100 when you book by October 1. We can’t wait to see you in October!

#apache-kafka, #casey-aylward, #cisco, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #computing, #confluent, #developer, #enterprise, #event-streaming, #free-software, #goldman-sachs, #google, #javier-soltero, #jay-kreps, #kobie-fuller, #linkedin, #microsoft, #netflix, #open-source, #saas, #software, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #tc-sessions-saas-2021, #uber

Microsoft accounts can go passwordless, making “password123” a thing of the past

Microsoft accounts can go passwordless, making “password123” a thing of the past

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Microsoft has been working to make passwordless sign-in for Windows and Microsoft accounts a reality for years now, and today those efforts come to fruition: The Verge reports that starting today, users can completely remove their passwords from their Microsoft accounts and opt to rely on Microsoft Authenticator or some other form of verification to sign in on new devices. Microsoft added passwordless login support for work and school accounts back in March, but this is the first time the feature has been offered for regular, old individual Microsoft accounts.

Passwordless accounts improve security by taking passwords out of the equation entirely, making it impossible to get any kind of access to your full account information without access to whatever you use to verify your identity for two-factor authentication. Even if you protect your Microsoft account with two-factor authentication, an attacker who knows your Microsoft account password could still try that password on other sites to see if you’ve reused it anywhere. And some forms of two-factor authentication, particularly SMS-based 2FA, have security problems of their own.

The warning message you'll see when you turn on the passwordless account feature.

The warning message you’ll see when you turn on the passwordless account feature. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Microsoft has offered passwordless authentication for Windows 10 and Microsoft accounts for a while now, and if you’re already taking advantage of those features, nothing about how you sign in to your devices has to change. You just need to visit the Microsoft Account site, go to the Security tab, select “Advanced security options,” and turn on the passwordless account feature to remove your password entirely.

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#biz-it, #microsoft, #passwordless, #tech

Glassdoor acquires Fishbowl, a semi-anonymous social network and job board, to square up to LinkedIn

While LinkedIn doubles down on creators to bring a more human, less manicured element to its networking platform for professionals, a company that has built a reputation for publishing primarily the more messy and human impressions of work life has made an acquisition that might help it compete better with LinkedIn.

Glassdoor, the platform that lets people post anonymous and candid feedback about the organizations they work for, has acquired Fishbowl — an app that gives users an anonymous option also to provide frank employee feedback, as well as join interest-based conversation groups to chat about work, and search for jobs. Glassdoor, which has 55 million users, is already integrating Fishbowl content into its main platform, although Fishbowl, with its 1 million users, will also continue for now to operate as a standalone app, too.

Christian Sutherland-Wong, the CEO of Glassdoor, said that he sees Fishbowl as the logical evolution of how Glassdoor is already being used. Similarly, since people are already seeking out feedback on prospective employers, it makes sense to bring recruitment and reviews closer together.

“We’ve always been about workplace transparency,” he said in an interview. “We expect in the future that jobseekers will use Glassdoor reviews, and also look to existing professionals in their fields to get answers from each other.” Fishbowl has seen a lot of traction during the Covid-19 pandemic, growing its user base threefold in the last year.

The acquisition is technically being made by Recruit Holdings, the Japanese employment listings and tech giant that acquired Glassdoor for $1.2 billion in 2018, and the companies are not disclosing any financial terms. San Francisco-based Fishbowl — founded in 2016 by Matt Sunbulli and Loren Appin — had raised less than $8 million, according to PitchBook data, from a pretty impressive set of investors, including Binary Capital, GGV, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, and Scott Belsky.

Microsoft-owned LinkedIn towers over the likes of Glassdoor in terms of size. It now has more than 774 million users, making it by far the biggest social media platform targeting professionals and their work-related content. But for many, even some of those who use it, the platform leaves something to be desired.

LinkedIn is a reliable go-to for putting out a profile of yourself, for the public, for those in your professional life, or for recruiters, to find. But what LinkedIn largely lacks are normal people talking about work in an honest way. To read about other’s often self-congratulatory professional developments, or to see motivational words on professional development from already hugely successful personalities, or to browse developments relative to your industry that probably have already seen elsewhere is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s anodyne. Sometimes people just want tea to be spilled.

That’s where something like Glassdoor comes into the picture: the format of making comments anonymous on there turns it into something of the anti-LinkedIn. It is caustic, perhaps sometimes bitter, talk about the workplace, balanced out with positive words seem to get periodically suspected of being seeded by the companies themselves. Motivational, inspirational and aspirational are generally not part of the Glassdoor lexicon; honest, illuminating, and sobering perhaps are.

Fishbowl will be used to augment this and give Glassdoor another set of tools now to see how it might build out its platform beyond workplace reviews. The idea is to target people who come to Glassdoor to read about what people think of a company, or to put in their own comments: they can now also jump into conversations with others; and if they are coming to complain about their employer, now they can also look for a new one!

In the meantime, it feels like the swing to more authenticity is also a result of the shift we’ve seen in the world of work.

Covid-19 mandated office closures and social distancing have meant that many professionals have been working at home for the majority of the last year and a half (and many continue to do so). That has changed how we “come to work”, with many of our traditional divides between work and non-work personas and time management blurring. That has had an inevitable impact on how we see ourselves at work, and what we seek to get out of that engagement. And it also has led many people to feel isolated and in need of more ways to connect with colleagues.

Glassdoor’s acquisition, it said, was in part to meet this demand. A Harris Poll commissioned by Glassdoor found that 48% of employees felt isolated from coworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic; 42% of employees felt their career stall due to the lack of in-person connection; and 45% of employees expect to work hybrid or full-time remotely going forward — all areas that Glassdoor believes can be addressed with better tools (like Fishbowl) for people to communicate.

Of course, it will remain to be seen whether Glassdoor can convert its visitors to use the new Fishbowl-powered tools, but if there really is a population of users out there looking for a new kind of LinkedIn — there certainly are enough who love to complain about it — then maybe this cold be one version of that.

#binary-capital, #ceo, #enterprise, #fishbowl, #glassdoor, #hiring, #labor, #lerer-hippeau-ventures, #linkedin, #ma, #microsoft, #recruit, #recruit-holdings, #san-francisco, #scott-belsky, #social-networks

Xbox and Special Olympics hold first ‘Gaming for Inclusion’ esports event

Gaming in general is moving towards accessibility, but that’s not as much the case in esports, which like other sports are competitive and by nature somewhat exclusive. Xbox and the Special Olympics are working together on a new event that combines competition with inclusion, and it’s going on right now.

This week, Special Olympics athletes will be competing against each other in tournaments of Rocket League, Madden NFL 22, and Forza Motorsports 7. The prize, other than prestige and pride, is playing with one of the Special Olympics’ celebrity supporters: “NBA superstar Jayson Tatum, NFL legend Jamaal Charles, and WWE Superstars.”

“This tournament is a meaningful and important step in making esports more accessible and it empowers Special Olympics athletes with a new way to compete,” said Jenn Panattoni, Head of Xbox Social Impact. “Xbox has invested in numerous accessibility features and products, like the Xbox Adaptive Controller and features like copilot or speech to text. The purpose of all this continued work is to ensure that players feel welcome and that they belong on the Xbox platform.”

The tournaments are being recorded right now, and will be broadcast over the rest of the week, along with the “celebrity showcase” coming Saturday with recaps. You can check out a schedule at the bottom of this post, but generally just keep an eye on the Xbox Twitch channel and Special Olympics YouTube channel.

I like to highlight these events because accessibility has been on the back burner for so long in the gaming world, and now we’re seeing big moves by developers, publishers, and partners to make things better. Microsoft’s XAC is a great example, as is the panoply of visual, audio, and difficulty options in the latest Ratchet & Clank game. Esports is definitely one of the areas that needs more diversity, though, and the participating players were glad to take part. I asked Special Olympics Jose Moreno and Colton Rice for their thoughts on the matter.

Do you think competitive gaming is getting more accessible?

Rice: Competitive gaming is definitely getting more accessible. Not only are the games becoming more accessible, accessibility allows people with disabilities to become more competitive players. People with intellectual disabilities are always trying to compete at their best. We want to do what everyone else is doing, and sometimes just need a little help to make that happen.

Moreno: I do think that competitive gaming is getting more accessible because Microsoft has started bringing out video game controllers that are accessible for people with intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities – accessible to everybody. I’m a lifelong gamer, and accessibility in esports has been game-changing. Accessible gaming wasn’t available when I was growing up. Today, it’s so much more fun to play when you can play with friends of all abilities and everybody can participate.

Special Olympics athletes Colton Rice, left, and Jose Moreno.

How are you experiencing that change?

Moreno: In my opinion, the more the video games industry include people with intellectual disabilities, the better the video game community is going to get to know how we love playing video games just like everybody else. And through events like Gaming for Inclusion, I’m not just able to compete – I’m included as a part of a community of gamers where I am welcomed and included.

Rice: People with intellectual disabilities have skills and pay attention to details; when we set our minds to do something, we practice until we are the best we can be especially when we enjoy doing it – and that includes gaming. People with disabilities just need more time to learn, but when you’re dedicated to something that you’re passionate about, you won’t stop until you succeed.

What’s something you’d like to see more of, from developers, publishers etc?

Moreno: I would like to see more from developers or makers or publishers of video games in general or computer games to include more people with intellectual disabilities in the video game workforce. People with intellectual disabilities can play a variety of roles and provide unique perspectives on how to improve the gaming experience. Publishers and developers can get a different perspective from people with disabilities; whether that’s featuring people with intellectual disabilities represented in their storylines or seeing them in the games themselves. We’re eager to be a part of this process, and there are lots of passionate gamers with intellectual disabilities who would like to participate in focus groups or in actual jobs as creators within the industry.

Rice: The companies who make these games are trying to make high quality games that are enjoyable for everybody. There is still a lot that can be done to make games more accessible. For example, it can be frustrating when gamers with intellectual disabilities are learning a new game with instructions that are hard to read. It can take hours to learn how to play the new version of a game you’ve played for years. That doesn’t mean people with intellectual disabilities aren’t capable of playing or competing – it just means we need better accessibility tools to help us learn.

If gaming companies want to create accessible, inclusive games, they could benefit from including gamers with intellectual disabilities in the creative process to help make or test “easy read” or beginner’s instructions, or find ways to simplify navigation between different levels of a game. Gaming can build a community and reach people who feel left out. Accessibility allows everybody to have fun.


This competition and other events in online gaming have been essential to keeping the Special Olympics community connected and active over a difficult couple years.

“Special Olympics has a long-standing partnership with Microsoft that has been incredibly valuable for the athletes and families of the Special Olympics movement,” said the organization’s Chief Information and Technology Officer, Prianka Nandy. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, our main concern has been the safety and health of our athletes, who are amongst the most vulnerable population to have an adverse or catastrophic outcome from the virus. This led to the cancellation and postponement of thousands of annual in-person events and competitions – which meant our athletes have missed out on the connections and opportunities to experience the joy of being with their teammates, coaches, and friends. At this time, our goals remain to raise awareness of the Special Olympics movement and the accomplishments, hopes, and dreams of our incredible athletes, and to change attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities within the gaming community, all while remembering that gaming can be fun and inclusive for all.”

#accessibility, #disabilities, #gaming, #microsoft, #tc, #xbox

Skype alumni head to court in a battle over Starship Technologies and Wire

A new lawsuit threatens a decades-long collaboration that brought Skype, robot delivery startup Starship Technologies and encrypted enterprise messaging service Wire into the world.

TechCrunch has learned that Mark Dyne, one of Skype’s founding investors, is suing billionaire Skype co-founder Janus Friis in California’s Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles for unlawful conspiracy in his business dealings.

The lawsuit is complex, with plenty of twists, turns and allegations. The heart of the dispute is whether Dyne and his partners, who had managed some of Friis’s investments, were working for — or simply with — the Skype co-founder when they organized a rescue package for Wire in 2019.

At stake is who gets to control Wire and the financial return each side gets from Starship.

Dyne and his investor partners accuse Friis of illegally replacing one of them as a director of a general partnership that manages Wire, and conspiring to reduce their interest in Starship Technologies. Dyne and his partners also allege (and dismiss) accusations by Friis that they had fiduciary duties to him when they found funding for and restructured Wire.

“[Friis] unfortunately believes he is always entitled to have what he wants, can force others to do what he wants, and can re-write history (and agreements) whenever it suits his present purpose,” reads the complaint, filed in July, but not previously reported.

Founding stories

Dyne was a key player in the history of Skype, as one of its original investors and its first board member. He remained on the board through its sale to eBay for more than $2.6 billion in 2005, and was part of the group that bought Skype from eBay in 2009. He was still on the board when it was eventually sold to Microsoft in 2011.

Dyne and Friis worked together extensively in the years after Skype. Dyne was an investor and board member of Friis’s ill-fated music streaming service Rdio, which filed for bankruptcy in 2015. Like Friis, he also served as a director of the general partners of the Iconical investment funds that funded Wire to the tune of more than $64.5 million between 2013 and 2018, according to the lawsuit.

Wire, launched by ex-Skype and Microsoft engineers, offers secure end-to-end encrypted messaging, file sharing, voice and video calls. Friis hoped Wire would become “the new Skype,” according to the lawsuit, but became disenchanted after it failed to scale quickly, and then pivoted to enterprise. Five years after its launch, Wire had acquired only about 150,000 users, all of whom were non-revenue generating, the lawsuit notes, and was burning through $8 to $10 million a year.

“Friis has a history of abandoning companies when they did not achieve their early objectives in his sole opinion,” the lawsuit reads. In addition, it states, Friis himself was highly involved with the design of the robots, the logo and the software app at Starship Technologies.

A turning point

At this point, the men were apparently still friends. They were working on a new venture referred to in the lawsuit only as “Project X,” and in 2017, Friis even donated $500,000 to Dyne’s charitable foundation.

In late 2018, the lawsuit says that Friis cut off the flow of cash from Wire’s loan facility and sent a text message to Dyne, reading: “Want to make sure we are ready to put everything into a Foundation if all else fails.” Wire would become free open source software, with the foundation responsible for setting terms for open source licenses. Friis envisioned himself, Wire’s CTO Alan Duric and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales sitting on its board.

But Dyne and his partners had a different idea. In early 2019, when Wire was only days away from shutting down, according to the lawsuit, Dyne and his partners quickly pulled together an $8 million Series A including them, Marbruck Investments and Wire’s own executive management team.

Friis told others that Dyne had “pulled off a miracle” in finding this financing, states the lawsuit. Although the Iconical funds would remain Wire’s single-largest shareholder, the transaction would, apparently, remove the company from Friis’s direct control.

The lawsuit says that following the round, Friis called Duric “a completely f**king disaster” and hastened to sever all ties with the company. It alleges he missed board meetings and did not speak to Morten Brøgger, Wire’s CEO, for nearly a year and a half.

That seems to have changed this year, following Wire’s $21 million Series B round. In May, Friis insisted that Wire be redomiciled in Germany, the lawsuit states: “In hindsight, this was clearly part of Friis’s undisclosed plan to reacquire control of Wire.”

In a Zoom (not Skype or Wire) call in October, says the lawsuit, Friis alleged that if the terms of the Wire transaction had been made clear to him and he had been properly advised, he would have never agreed to it, blaming Dyne and his partners. He also replaced one of them as a director and stalled meetings, it says.

The fight over Starship

Nor are Friis’s actions limited to Wire, according to the lawsuit. It says that Friis was always vexed that he did not have a controlling interest in the sidewalk robot delivery startup Starship, which was structured as a 50/50 deal with another Skype alumnus, Ahti Heinla. The lawsuit includes a screengrab of a text from Friis to Dyne suggesting if that structure could be remedied “in a way that was set in stone, one would easily pay [$]10-15 million for it.”

The lawsuit alleges that Friis conspired with one of his companies to inaccurately claim Starship as a “controlled portfolio company” of one of the Iconical funds. This would inflate his own interest in it at the expense of Dyne and his partners “to the point where [our] interest is no longer a financeable asset in the secondary markets,” it says. “Friis will say or do anything in order to suit his present fiction, no matter the cost to others.”

Dyne did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Friis’ legal team filed a motion to quash the lawsuit on Friday, on the grounds that Friis — a Danish citizen living in London — is not subject to the court’s jurisdiction.

The motion stated: “More than a decade ago, Dyne [and partner] recognized they could profit handsomely if they hitched their wagon to Friis. And over the ensuing years, while extracting millions of dollars’ worth of fees and profit interests, they pretended they were acting as Friis’s and his entities’ trusted fiduciaries overseeing and managing Friis’s various venture capital pursuits. But in reality… Plaintiffs had a single-minded focus of advancing their own commercial interests at the expense of Friis.”

Friis’s lawyers also provided TechCrunch with the following statement: “Dyne’s defective lawsuit is a defensive reaction to questions raised regarding his and his team’s conduct… Although we believe that the allegations in the complaint are irresponsible, incomplete, and without merit, they also effectively concede that Dyne and his team breached fiduciary duties over their decade-plus relationship as trusted advisers. We look forward to fully addressing these matters in litigation.”

The outcome of this lawsuit, which is still in its early days, is likely to have little immediate impact on the operations of either Starship, which has made over 1.5 million autonomous deliveries and recently snagged ex-Google Loon chief Alastair Westgarth as its CEO, or Wire, which completed its pivot to enterprise customers and enjoyed some success during the pandemic.

However, it does spell the end of a dream team that has created some of the most interesting and influential startups of the 21st century so far.

#finance, #janus-friis, #lawsuit, #mark-dyne, #microsoft, #robotics, #skype, #starship-technologies, #transportation, #venture-capital, #wire

Rezilion raises $30M help security operations teams with tools to automate their busywork

Security operations teams face a daunting task these days, fending off malicious hackers and their increasingly sophisticated approaches to cracking into networks. That also represents a gap in the market: building tools to help those security teams do their jobs. Today, an Israeli startup called Rezilion that is doing just that — building automation tools for DevSecOps, the area of IT that addresses the needs of security teams and the technical work that they need to do in their jobs — is announcing $30 million in funding.

Guggenheim Investments is leading the round with JVP and Kindred Capital also contributing. Rezilion said that unnamed executives from Google, Microsoft, CrowdStrike, IBM, Cisco, PayPal, JP Morgan Chase, Nasdaq, eBay, Symantec, RedHat, RSA and Tenable are also in the round. Previously, the company had raised $8 million.

Rezilion’s funding is coming on the back of strong initial growth for the startup in its first two years of operations.

Its customer base is made up of some of the world’s biggest companies, including two of the “Fortune 10” (the top 10 of the Fortune 500). CEO Liran Tancman, who co-founded Rezilion with CTO Shlomi Boutnaru, said that one of those two is one of the world’s biggest software companies, and the other is a major connected device vendor, but he declined to say which. (For the record, the top 10 includes Amazon, Apple, Alphabet/Google, Walmart and CVS.)

Tancman and Boutnaru had previously co-founded another security startup, CyActive, which was acquired by PayPal in 2015; the pair worked there together until leaving to start Rezilion.

There are a lot of tools out in the market now to help automate different aspects of developer and security operations. Rezilion focuses on a specific part of DevSecOps: large businesses have over the years put in place a lot of processes that they need to follow to try to triage and make the most thorough efforts possible to detect security threats. Today, that might involve inspecting every single suspicious piece of activity to determine what the implications might be.

The problem is that with the volume of information coming in, taking the time to inspect and understand each piece of suspicious activity can put enormous strain on an organization: it’s time-consuming, and as it turns out, not the best use of that time because of the signal to noise ratio involved. Typically, each vulnerability can take 6-9 hours to properly investigate, Tancman said. “But usually about 70-80% of them are not exploitable,” meaning they may be bad for some, but not for this particular organization and the code it’s using today. That represents a very inefficient use of the security team’s time and energy.

“Eight of out ten patches tend to be a waste of time,” Tancman said of the approach that is typically made today. He believes that as its AI continues to grow and its knowledge and solution becomes more sophisticated, “it might soon be 9 out of 10.”

Rezilion has built a taxonomy and an AI-based system that essentially does that inspection work as a human would do: it spots any new, or suspicious, code, figures out what it is trying to do, and runs it against a company’s existing code and systems to see how and if it might actually be a threat to it or create further problems down the line. If it’s all good, it essentially whitelists the code. If not, it flags it to the team.

The stickiness of the product has come out of how Tancman and Boutnaru understand large enterprises, especially those heavy with technology stacks, operate these days in what has become a very challenging environment for cybersecurity teams.

“They are using us to accelerate their delivery processes while staying safe,” Tancman said. “They have strict compliance departments and have to adhere to certain standards,” in terms of the protocols they take around security work, he added. “They want to leverage DevOps to release that.”

He said Rezilion has generally won over customers in large part for simply understanding that culture and process and helping them work better within that: “Companies become users of our product because we showed them that, at a fraction of the effort, they can be more secure.” This has special resonance in the world of tech, although financial services, and other verticals that essentially leverage technology as a significant foundation for how they operate, are also among the startup’s user base.

Down the line, Rezilion plans to add remediation and mitigation into the mix to further extend what it can do with its automation tools, which is part of where the funding will be going, too, Boutnaru said. But he doesn’t believe it will ever replace the human in the equation altogether.

“It will just focus them on the places where you need more human thinking,” he said. “We’re just removing the need for tedious work.”

In that grand tradition of enterprise automation, then, it will be interesting to watch which other automation-centric platforms might make a move into security alongside the other automation they are building. For now, Rezilion is forging out an interesting enough area for itself to get investors interested.

“Rezilion’s product suite is a game changer for security teams,” said Rusty Parks, senior MD of Guggenheim Investments, in a statement. “It creates a win-win, allowing companies to speed innovative products and features to market while enhancing their security posture. We believe Rezilion has created a truly compelling value proposition for security teams, one that greatly increases return on time while thoroughly protecting one’s core infrastructure.”

#agile-software-development, #alphabet, #amazon, #apple, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #automation, #ceo, #cisco, #computer-security, #crowdstrike, #cto, #cyactive, #devops, #ebay, #energy, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #financial-services, #funding, #google, #ibm, #jp-morgan-chase, #kindred-capital, #maryland, #microsoft, #paypal, #security, #software, #software-development, #startup-company, #symantec, #technology

Microsoft acquires TakeLessons, an online and in-person tutoring platform, to ramp up its edtech play

Microsoft said in January this year that Teams, its online collaboration platform, was being used by over 100 million students — boosted in no small part by the Covid-19 pandemic and many schools going partly or fully remote. Now, it’s made another acquisition to continue expanding its position in the education market.

The company has acquired TakeLessons, a platform for students to connect with individual tutors in areas like music lessons, language learning, academic subjects and professional training or hobbies, and for tutors to book and organize the lessons they give, both online and in person.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed but we are trying to find out. San Diego-based TakeLessons had raised at least $20 million from a range of VCs and individuals that included LightBank, Uncork Capital, Crosslink Capital and others. TakeLessons posted a short note in the form of a Q&A confirming the deal on its site. The note said that it will continue operating business as usual for the time being, with the intention of taking its platform to a wider global audience.

It’s not clear how many active students and tutors TakeLessons had on its platform at the time of acquisition, but for some context, another big player in the area of online one-to-one tutoring, GoStudent out of Europe, raised $244 million in funding earlier this year that valued it at $1.7 billion. Others in online tutoring like Brainly are also seeing valuations in the hundreds of millions.

Given the relatively modest amount raised by TakeLessons, it’s likely this was a much lower valuation. Yet the acquisition is still one that gives Microsoft the infrastructure and beginnings of setting up a much more aggressive play in mass-market online education, potentially to go head-to-head with these and other big platforms.

TakeLessons today offers instruction in a wide variety of areas, including music lessons (which was where it had gotten its start) through to languages, academic subjects and test prep, computer skills, crafts and more. It has been around since 2006 and got its start first as a platform for people to connect with tutors local to them for in-person lessons, before progressing into online lessons to complement that business.

The pandemic has precipitated a shift to a much bigger wave of the latter, with online tutoring apparently the majority of what is offered on TakeLessons platform today. These lessons continue to be offered on a one-on-one basis, but additionally students can take part in group lessons online via the startup’s Live platform.

The shift to online education that we’ve seen take hold around the world is likely why Microsoft sees a big opportunity here.

On the heels of many schools around the world scrambling for better online learning platforms to manage remote learning during lockdowns and quarantines, educators, families and students have been using (and paying for) a variety of different tools. Within that, Microsoft has been pushing hard to make Teams a leader in that area.

That was built on years of traction already in the market (and a number of other investments and acquisitions that Microsoft has made over the years).

But it also comes amid a new insurgence of competition arising from the current state of affairs. That includes adoption of Google Classroom, as well as a wide variety of more targeted point solutions for specific purposes like video lessons (Zoom figures big here); apps for lesson planning and homework planning; online on-demand tutorials in specific areas like math or languages or science to bolster in-class learning experiences; and more.

The Microsoft way is to bring as many features into a platform as possible to make it more sticky and less likely that users will turn to other apps, providing more value for money around the Microsoft offer. In other words, I’d expect to see Microsoft do more deals and launch more features to cover all of the services that it doesn’t already provide through its educational tools.

(Case in point: my children’s school uses Teams for online lessons, in part because it already uses Outlook for its email system. Now, the school has announced that it will no longer be using a different third-party app for homework planning; instead, teachers will be assigning homework and managing it via Teams. For a cash-strapped state school like ours, it makes sense that it would opt out of paying for two apps when it can get the same features in just one of them. The kids are not happy about this! This is what Microsoft leverages with its platform play.)

NextLessons is somewhat adjacent to that school-focused education strategy. Yes, there will be a big audience of students and their families who might represent a good cross-selling opportunity for tutoring, but NextLessons represents also a more mass-market offering, open to anyone who might want to learn something, not just those already using Microsoft Education products.

So the interest here is likely not just students who want to supplement their online learning — there is a big audience for online tutoring — but any lifelong learner, as well as the many consumers or professionals out there who have gotten interested in learning something new, especially in the last 1.5 years of spending more time alone and/or at home.

And with that, there are other potential opportunities for NextLessons in the Microsoft universe.

Just yesterday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Ryan Roslansky, the CEO of Microsoft-owned LinkedIn, held an online presentation about what work will look like in the future. Education — specifically professional development — figured strongly in that discussion, with the conversation coinciding with LinkedIn launching a new Learning Hub.

LinkedIn has not only been working for years on building out its education business, but it has also long been looking for a more sticky inroad into doing more with video on its platform.

Something like NextLessons could, interestingly, kill those two birds with one stone. While LinkedIn’s education content up to now has not been something specifically tied to “live” online lessons, you could imagine a bridge between Microsoft’s latest acquisition and what LinkedIn might consider next, too.

#articles, #ceo, #crosslink-capital, #e-learning, #education, #europe, #google, #leader, #learning, #lightbank, #linkedin, #ma, #microsoft, #online-education, #online-learning, #online-tutoring, #ryan-roslansky, #san-diego, #satya-nadella, #takelessons, #teaching, #tutoring, #uncork-capital

Investors are doubling down on Southeast Asia’s digital economy

Southeast Asian tech companies are drawing the attention of investors around the world. In 2020, startups in the region raised over $8.2 billion, about four times more than they did in 2015. This trend continued in 2021, with regional M&A hitting a record high of $124.8 billion in the first half of 2021, up 83% from a year earlier.

This begs the question: Who exactly is investing in Southeast Asia?

Let’s explore the three key types of investors pouring money into and driving the growth of Southeast Asia’s tech ecosystem.

Over 229 family offices have been registered in Singapore since 2020, with total assets under management of an estimated $20 billion.

Big tech

Southeast Asia has become an attractive market for U.S. and Chinese tech firms. Internet penetration here stands at 70%, higher than the global average, and digital adoption in the region remains nascent — it wasn’t until the pandemic that adoption of digital services such as e-wallets and online shopping took off.

China’s tech giants Tencent and Alibaba were among the first to support early e-commerce growth in Southeast Asia with investments in Sea Limited and Lazada, and have since expanded their footprint into other internet verticals. Alibaba has backed Akulaku, M-Pay (eMonkey), DANA, Wave Money and Mynt (GCash), while Tencent has invested in Voyager Innovations (PayMaya), SHAREit, iflix, Ookbee and Sanook.

U.S. tech firms have also recently entered the scene. In June 2020, Gojek closed a $3 billion Series F round from Google, Facebook, Tencent and Visa. Google, together with Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, invested some $350 million in Tokopedia in October. Meanwhile, Microsoft invested an undisclosed amount in Grab in 2018 and has invested $100 million in Indonesian e-commerce firm Bukalapak.

Venture capitalists

In Q1 2021, Southeast Asian startups raised $6 billion, according to DealStreetAsia, positioning 2021 as another record year for VC investment in the region.

The region is also rising in prominence as a destination for investment capital relative to the rest of Asia. Regional VC investment grew 5.2 times to $8.2 billion in 2020 from $1.6 billion in 2015, as we can see in the table below.

Venture capital investment by region 2015-2020

Image Credits: Jungle VC

Southeast Asia also has many opportunities for VC investment relative to its market size. From 2015 to 2020, China saw VC investment of nearly $300 per person; for Southeast Asia — despite a recent investment boom — this metric sits at just $47.50 per person, or just a sixth of that in China. This implies a substantial opportunity for investments to develop the region’s digital economy.

The region’s rising population and growth prospects are higher due to China’s population growth challenges, alongside the latter’s higher digital economy market saturation and maturity.

#alibaba, #asia, #asia-pacific, #bridgewater-associates, #china, #column, #e-commerce, #ec-column, #ec-southeast-asia-oceania, #facebook, #ggv-capital, #google, #internet-penetration, #james-dyson, #joseph-phua, #lazada, #lazada-group, #microsoft, #online-shopping, #paul-allen, #private-equity, #ray-dalio, #sergey-brin, #singapore, #southeast-asia, #startups, #temasek-holdings, #tencent, #tokopedia, #united-states, #venture-capital

Microsoft confirms investment in India’s Oyo in a multi-year strategic deal to co-develop travel and hospitality products

Microsoft has entered a “multi-year strategic alliance” with Oyo to work with the Indian startup to co-develop “next-generation” travel and hospitality products and tech.

Thursday’s announcement confirms a late July TechCrunch report. TechCrunch had reported that Microsoft was in talks to invest in Oyo and was exploring ways to provide its technologies to the Indian startup, which is one of the most valuable in the South Asian market.

In a press statement, Microsoft confirmed that it has also made a strategic equity investment in Oyo, but didn’t disclose the amount. A regulatory filing showed last month that the Windows-maker had invested $5 million in the Indian startup. The investment valued Oyo at $9.6 billion.

Oyo will switch to Microsoft Azure for its cloud-based needs and co-develop solutions with the American giant to “benefit patrons who operate small and medium hotel and home storefronts,” the firms said. “As part of this alliance, OYO will develop Smart Room experiences for travelers on the OYO platform, such as premium and customized in-room experiences for its guests. Using Microsoft’s Azure IoT, the experience will include self-check-in supported by a digital register of arrivals and departures and self-Know Your Customer (KYC) along with IoT-managed smart locks and virtual assistance,” the firms said.

“Combining the power of Azure with the tech and product stack developed by OYO, we are looking forward to accelerating innovation in travel and hospitality,” said Anant Maheshwari, President of Microsoft India, in a statement. “It is inspiring to see how the Microsoft cloud is empowering digital natives like OYO to accelerate industry transformation and innovations, turning the challenges of a post-pandemic era into opportunities for the future.”

Oyo has emerged as one of the largest hotel chains in the world, with presence in India, Southeast Asia, Europe and the U.S. But some of its missteps in its pursuit of aggressive expansion — “toxic culture,” lapse in governance and relationship with many hotel owners — have scarred its growth.

Just as the startup was pledging to improve its relationship with hotel owners, the pandemic arrived. In response, Oyo slowed its growth and laid off thousands of employees globally earlier this year as nations across the world enforced lockdowns.

The pandemic hit the seven-year-old startup like a “cyclone,” CEO Ritesh Agarwal told Bloomberg TV in July. “We built something for so many years and it took just 30 days for it drop by over 60%,” he said, adding that the firm had not made any decision on exploring the public markets.

Airbnb-backed Oyo had between $780 million to $800 million in its bank, Agarwal said at a virtual conference recently, and had pared its “monthly burn” across all businesses to $4 million to $5 million. (The startup had about $1 billion in the bank in December 2020.)

In July — after Agarwal’s remarks at the aforementioned conference — Oyo said it had raised $660 million in debt. That debt was used to pay off the previous debt, according to a person familiar with the matter.

As for Microsoft, Oyo is the latest of several strategic investments it has made in the country. The firm has backed a handful of startups in the South Asian market, including news aggregator and short-video platform DailyHunt, e-commerce giant Flipkart, and logistics SaaS firm FarEye.

#asia, #funding, #india, #microsoft, #oyo

AI-driven voice assistant PolyAI raises $14M round led by Khosla Ventures

“Conversational AI” startup PolyAI, based out of London, has raised $14 million in a funding round led by Silicon Valley’s Khosla Ventures, with participation from existing investors (Point72 Ventures, Amadeus Capital, Sands Capital Ventures, Passion Capital and Entrepreneur First). This follows their $12m Series A, and will provide resources for further US expansion beyond its existing US team. The startup has now raised $28m to date.

PolyAI builds and deploys voice assistants for automating customer services, which, claims the startup, sound like real humans. This helps companies get an infinite and cheaper supply of their best human voice operators, which reduces customer waiting times, and increases customer satisfaction and retention, says the company.

Co-founder Dr Nikola Mrkšić said: “The technical term for our technology is ‘multi-turn conversational AI’, but all the caller has to do is talk to it, like they would to a human. Compared to existing call centers, our assistants can boost customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores by up to 40% and reduce handling times by up to five minutes.”

“We build these systems very quickly (relative to the competition) — we get experiences like these up and running in 2-4 weeks thanks to our transformer-based language understanding models and the underlying dialog management platform,” he added.

In a statement, Vinod Khosla said: “PolyAI is one of the first AI companies using the newest generation of large pre-trained deep learning models (akin to BERT and GPT-3) in a real-world enterprise product. This means they can deploy automated AI agents in as little as two weeks, where incumbent providers of voice assistants would take up to six months to deploy an older version of this technology.”

A spinout from the University of Cambridge, PolyAI says it is is effectively ’pushing at an open door’ as the pandemic has led to staffing shortages in call centers, driving more companies to deploy smart voice assistants, which appear not to have been replaced chatbots at all, as consumer generally prefer to speak than type.

“We were expecting the system to handle 40% of calls, but at launch it handled 80%, and within two weeks it was up to 87%,” said Brian Jeppesen of Landry’s Golden Nugget Hotels & Casinos. “Callers think the AI agent is human”, Jeppesen continued, “which is great because the voice assistant never has a bad day, and is on 24/7. I wish I could hire more agents like that!”

Competitors include Nuance (recently acquired by Microsoft), IPSoft, Interactions, SmartAction, and Replicant. But PolyAI says its voice assistant can be turned live more quickly, in more languages, and charges on a per-minute basis.

Founded by Nikola Mrkšić (CEO), Tsung-Hsien Wen (CTO), Pei-Hao Su (Engineering Director), the three met while doing PhDs with Professor Steve Young, a leader in spoken dialog systems who pioneered many technologies that underpin voice assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa.

Recent PolyAI clients include Landry’s Entertainment, Greene King, Starling Bank, and Viasat. 

#alexa, #artificial-intelligence, #cambridge, #ceo, #chatbots, #co-founder, #computing, #cto, #customer-satisfaction, #entrepreneur, #europe, #google, #instant-messaging, #interactions, #khosla-ventures, #leader, #london, #microsoft, #nikola, #nuance, #passion-capital, #point72-ventures, #polyai, #replicant, #sands-capital-ventures, #software, #starling-bank, #tc, #united-states, #university-of-cambridge, #user-interfaces, #viasat, #vinod-khosla, #virtual-assistant, #voice-assistant

Windows Movie Maker Redux? Microsoft acquires web-based video editor Clipchamp

Windows Movie Maker Redux? Microsoft acquires web-based video editor Clipchamp

Enlarge (credit: Clipchamp)

Microsoft hasn’t updated its old Windows Movie Maker software since 2012, and it hasn’t even offered the old version for download since 2017, leaving Windows users to fend for themselves when it comes to beginner-friendly editing and sharing of video clips. That situation will hopefully change thanks to Microsoft’s acquisition of Clipchamp, a web-based video-editing tool. Clipchamp includes a variety of built-in templates for family-video editors, Twitch and YouTube streamers, and businesses putting together ads or other branded videos.

Microsoft hasn’t made specific announcements about where and how Clipchamp will be integrated into its products, but it hinted that the app “is a natural fit to extend the cloud-powered productivity experiences in Microsoft 365,” implying that the web version will be a part of Microsoft’s subscription service in the future. Clipchamp is “also a great fit for Microsoft Windows,” which currently only offers very basic video editing via the built-in Photos app. Microsoft’s current tools definitely aren’t up to the level of iMovie, which Apple offers for free to macOS, iOS, and iPadOS users.

Whatever comes of the Clipchamp acquisition, it won’t be included in the initial version of Windows 11 when it’s released on October 5. But Microsoft’s Panos Panay shared a brief teaser video of a revamped Windows 11 Photos app, which may at least improve upon the barebones version in Windows 10.

Read on Ars Technica | Comments

#microsoft, #tech, #windows, #windows-movie-maker

Microsoft acquires video creation and editing software maker Clipchamp

Video editing software may become the next big addition to Microsoft’s suite of productivity tools. On Tuesday, Microsoft announced it’s acquiring Clipchamp, a company offering web-based video creation and editing software that allows anyone to put together video presentations, promos or videos meant for social media destinations like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. According to Microsoft, Clipchamp is a “natural fit” to extend its exiting productivity experiences in Microsoft 365 for families, schools, and businesses.

The acquisition appealed to Microsoft for a few reasons. Today, more people are creating and using video, thanks to a growing set of new tools that allow anyone — even non-professionals — to quickly and easily perform advanced edits and produce quality video content. This, explains Microsoft, has allowed video to establish itself as a new type of “document” for businesses to do things like pitch an idea, explain a process, or communicate with team members.

The company also saw Clipchamp as an interesting acquisition target due to how it combined “the simplicity of a web app with the full computing power of a PC with graphics processing unit (GPU) acceleration,” it said. That makes the software a good fit for the Microsoft Windows customer base, as well.

Clipchamp itself had built a number of online tools in the video creation and editing space, including its video maker Clipchamp Create, which offers features for trimming, cutting, cropping, rotating, speed control, and adding text, audio, images, colors, and filters. It also provides other tools that make video creation easier, like templates, free stock video and audio libraries, screen recorders, text-to-speech tools, and others for simplifying a brand’s fonts, colors and logos for use in video. A discontinued set of utilities called Clipchamp Utilities had once included a video compressor and converters, as well as an in-browser webcam recorder. Some of this functionality was migrated over to the new Clipchamp app, however.

After producing the videos with Clipchamp, creators can choose between different output styles and aspect ratios for popular social media networks, making it a popular tool for online marketers.

Image Credits: Clipchamp

Since its founding in 2013, Clipchamp grew to attract over 17 million registered users and has served over 390,000 companies, growing at a rate of 54% year-over-year. As the pandemic forced more organizations towards remote work, the use of video has grown as companies adopted the medium for training, communication, reports, and more. During the first half of 2021, Clipchamp saw a 186% increase in video exports. Videos using the 16:9 aspect ratio grew by 189% while the 9:16 aspect ratio for sharing to places like Instagram Stories and TikTok grew by 140% and the 1:1 aspect ratio for Instagram grew 72%. Screen recording also grew 57% and webcam recording grew 65%.

In July, Clipchamp CEO Alexander Dreiling commented on this growth, noting the company had nearly tripled its team over the past year.

“We are acquiring two times more users on average than we did at the same time a year ago while also doubling the usage rate, meaning more users are creating video content than ever before. While social media videos have always been at the forefront of business needs, during the past year we’ve also witnessed the rapid adoption of internal communication use cases where there is a lot of screen and webcam recording taking place in our platform,” he said.

Microsoft didn’t disclose the acquisition price, but Clipchamp had raised over $15 million in funding according to Crunchbase.

This is not Microsoft’s first attempt at entering the video market.

The company was recently one of the suitors pursuing TikTok when the Trump administration was working to force a sale of the China-owned video social network which Trump had dubbed a national security threat. (In order to keep TikTok running in the U.S., ByteDance would have needed to have divested TikTok’s U.S. operations. But that sale never came to be as the Biden administration paused the effort.) Several years ago, Microsoft also launched a business video service called Stream, that aimed to allow enterprises to use video as easily as consumers use YouTube. In 2018, it acquired social learning platform Flipgrid, which used short video clips for collaboration. And as remote work became the norm, Microsoft has been adding more video capabilities to its team collaboration software, Microsoft Teams, too.

Microsoft’s deal follows Adobe’s recent $1.28 acquisition of the video review and collaboration platform Frame.io, which has been used by over a million people since its founding in 2014. However, unlike Clipchamp, whose tools are meant for anyone to use at work, school, or home, Frame.io is aimed more directly at creative professionals.

Dreiling said Clipchamp will continue to grow at Microsoft, with a focus on making video editing accessible to more people.

“Few companies in tech have the legacy and reach that Microsoft has. We all grew up with iconic Microsoft products and have been using them ever since,” he explained. “Becoming part of Microsoft allows us to become part of a future legacy. Under no other scenario could our future look more exciting than what’s ahead of us now. At Clipchamp we have always said that we’re not suffering from a lack of opportunity, there absolutely is an abundance of opportunity in video. We just need to figure out how to seize it. Inside Microsoft we can approach seizing our opportunity in entirely new ways,” Dreiling added.

Microsoft did not say when it expected to integrate Clipchamp into its existing software suite, saying it would share more at a later date.

 

#biden-administration, #bytedance, #ceo, #collaboration-software, #computing, #exit, #facebook, #instagram, #ma, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #microsoft-windows, #mobile-software, #online-tools, #productivity-tools, #software, #technology, #tiktok, #trump, #trump-administration, #united-states, #video, #web-app, #webcam

Real-time database platform SingleStore raises $80M more, now at a $940M valuation

Organizations are swimming in data these days, and so solutions to help manage and use that data in more efficient ways will continue to see a lot of attention and business. In the latest development, SingleStore — which provides a platform to enterprises to help them integrate, monitor and query their data as a single entity, regardless of whether that data is stored in multiple repositories — is announcing another $80 million in funding, money that it will be using to continue investing in its platform, hiring more talent and overall business expansion. Sources close to the company tell us that the company’s valuation has grown to $940 million.

The round, a Series F, is being led by Insight Partners, with new investor Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and previous backers Khosla Ventures, Dell Capital, Rev IV, Glynn Capital, and GV (formerly Google Ventures) also participating. The startup has to date raised $264 million, including most recently an $80 million Series E as recently as last December, just on the heels of rebranding from MemSQL.

The fact that there are three major strategic investors in this Series F — HPE, Dell and Google — may say something about the traction that SingleStore is seeing, but so too do its numbers: 300%+ increase in new customer acquisition for its cloud service and 150%+ year-over-year growth in cloud

Raj Verma, SingleStore’s CEO, said in an interview that its cloud revenues have grown by 150% year over year and now account for some 40% of all revenues (up from 10% a year ago). New customer numbers, meanwhile, have grown by over 300%.

“The flywheel is now turning around,” Verma said. “We didn’t need this money. We’ve barely touched our Series E. But I think there has been a general sentiment among our board and management that we are now ready for the prime time. We think SingleStore is one of the best kept secrets in the database market. Now we want to aggressively be an option for people looking for a platform for intensive data applications or if they want to consolidate databases to 1 from 3, 5 or 7 repositories. We are where the world is going: real-time insights.”

With database management and the need for more efficient and cost-effective tools to manage that becoming an ever-growing priority — one that definitely got a fillip in the last 18 months with Covid-19 pushing people into more remote working environments. That means SingleStore is not without competitors, with others in the same space including Amazon, Microsoft, Snowflake, PostgreSQL, MySQL, Redis and more. Others like Firebolt are tackling the challenges of handing large, disparate data repositories from another angle. (Some of these, I should point out, are also partners: SingleStore works with data stored on AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and Red Hat, and Verma describes those who do compute work as “not database companies; they are using their database capabilities for consumption for cloud compute.”)

But the company has carved a place for itself with enterprises and has thousands now on its books, including GE, IEX Cloud, Go Guardian, Palo Alto Networks, EOG Resources, and SiriusXM + Pandora.

“SingleStore’s first-of-a-kind cloud database is unmatched in speed, scale, and simplicity by anything in the market,” said Lonne Jaffe, managing director at Insight Partners, in a statement. “SingleStore’s differentiated technology allows customers to unify real-time transactions and analytics in a single database.” Vinod Khosla from Khosla Ventures added that “SingleStore is able to reduce data sprawl, run anywhere, and run faster with a single database, replacing legacy databases with the modern cloud.”

#amazon, #aws, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #database, #database-management, #enterprise, #funding, #glynn-capital, #google-cloud-platform, #google-ventures, #hewlett-packard-enterprise, #khosla-ventures, #lonne-jaffe, #memsql, #microsoft, #mysql, #palo-alto-networks, #postgresql, #red-hat, #redis, #series-e, #singlestore, #snowflake, #vinod-khosla

Microsoft launches a personalized news service, Microsoft Start

Microsoft today is introducing its own personalized news reading experience called Microsoft Start, available as both a website and mobile app, in addition to being integrated with other Microsoft products, including Windows 10 and 11 and its Microsoft Edge web browser. The feed will combine content from news publishers, but in a way that’s tailored to users’ individual interests, the company says — a customization system that could help Microsoft to better compete with the news reading experiences offered by rivals like Apple or Google, as well as popular third-party apps like Flipboard or SmartNews.

Microsoft says the product builds on the company’s legacy with online and mobile consumer services like MSN and Microsoft News. However, it won’t replace MSN. That service will remain available, despite the launch of this new, in-house competitor.

To use Microsoft Start, consumers can visit the standalone website MicrosoftStart.com, which works on both Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge (but not Safari), or they can download the Microsoft Start mobile app for iOS or Android.

The service will also power the News and Interests experience on the Windows 10 taskbar and the Widgets experience on Windows 11. In Microsoft Edge, it will be available from the New Tab page, too.

Image Credits: Microsoft

At first glance, the Microsoft Start website it very much like any other online portal offering a collection of news from a variety of publishers, alongside widgets for things like weather, stocks, sports scores and traffic. When you click to read an article, you’re taken to a syndicated version hosted on Microsoft’s domain, which includes the Microsoft Start top navigation bar at the top and emoji reaction buttons below the headline.

Users can also react to stories with emojis while browsing the home page itself.

This emoji set is similar to the one being offered today by Facebook, except that Microsoft has replaced Facebook’s controversial laughing face emoji with a thinking face. (It’s worth noting that the Facebook laughing face has been increasingly criticized for being used to openly ridicule posts and mock people  — even on stories depicting tragic events, like Covid deaths, for instance.)

Microsoft has made another change with its emoji, as well: after you react to a story with an emoji, you only see your emoji instead of the top three and total reaction count. 

Image Credits: Microsoft

But while online web portals tend to be static aggregators of news content, Microsoft Start’s feed will adjust to users’ interests in several different ways.

Users can click a “Personalize” button to be taken to a page where they can manually add and remove interests from across a number of high-level categories like news, entertainment, sports, technology, money, finance, travel, health, shopping, and more. Or they can search for categories and interests that could be more specific or more niche. (Instead of “parenting,” for instance, “parenting teenagers.”)  This recalls the recent update Flipboard made to its own main page, the For You feed, which lets users make similar choices.

As users then begin to browse their Microsoft Start feed, they can also click a button to thumbs up or thumbs down an article to better adjust the feed to their preferences. Over time, the more the user engages with the content, the better refined the feed becomes, says Microsoft. This customization will leverage A.I. and machine learning, as well as human moderation, the company notes.

The feed, like other online portals, is supported by advertising. As you scroll down, you’ll notice every few rows will feature one ad unit, where the URL is flagged with a green “Ad” badge. Initially, these mostly appear to be product ads, making them distinct from the news content. Since Microsoft isn’t shutting down MSN and is integrating this news service into a number of other products, it’s expanding the available advertising real estate it can offer with this launch.

According to the iOS app’s privacy label, the data being used to track users across websites and apps owned by other companies includes the User ID. By comparison, Google News does not include a tracking section. Both Microsoft Start and Google News collect a host of “data linked to you,” like location, identifiers, search history, usage data, contact info, and more. The website itself, however, only links to Microsoft’s general privacy policy.

The website, app and integrations are rolling out starting today. (If you aren’t able to find the app yet, you can try scanning the QR code from your mobile device.)

 

#a-i, #apple, #apps, #emoji, #finance, #machine-learning, #media, #microsoft, #microsoft-edge, #microsoft-windows, #mobile, #mobile-device, #msn, #news-publishers, #operating-systems, #social-media, #software, #web-browser, #windows-10, #windows-11

Check out who’s coming to TC Sessions: SaaS 2021

On October 27, less than two fast-moving months away, we’re hosting TC Sessions: SaaS 2021, our first event focused exclusively on the software-as-a-service ecosystem. SaaS — the de facto business model for B2B and B2C startups and enterprises alike — shows no sign of slowing down.

This is a prime opportunity to hear and learn from the industry’s major players, thought leaders and, frankly, some of the coolest creators around the globe. It’s more than just listening — it’s engaging with speakers during Q&As and networking with founders, CEOs and investors from major companies.

Pro Ka-ching Tip: Want to save $100 on the price of admission? Yeah, you do. Simply buy an early-bird SaaS pass before the prices go up on October 1 at 11:59 pm (PT).

So, let’s get to it. here are just some of the leading voices and companies coming to TC Sessions: SaaS to share their insight, actionable tips and hard-won advice.

Kathy Baxter is the principal architect for the ethical AI practice at Salesforce. She also has more than 20 years under her belt as a software architect. We’re going to tap into her deep expertise for a panel discussion on AI’s growing role in software today, as well as the implications of using AI in your software service as it becomes a mainstream part of the SaaS development process.

Javier Soltero is the VP and GM in charge of Google Workspace, which has significantly more than 2 billion users. Productivity apps like Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Drive are a big part of SaaS, and Soltero joins us for an interview about the role Google Workspace plays in the Google cloud strategy.

Jared Spataro is the corporate VP in charge of Microsoft 365 — arguably one of the most successful SaaS products ever. He was part of the great shift from on prem to the cloud, and he’ll join us to talk about how Microsoft made that move and what it’s done for the company.

Casey Aylward, a principal at Costanoa Ventures, concentrates on early-stage enterprise startups. Kobie Fuller, a partner at Upfront Ventures, focuses on SaaS, AR and VR. Sarah Guo, a partner at Greylock, concentrates on AI, cybersecurity, infrastructure and the future of work. This group of prestigious VCs will panel-up to discuss what they look for when they invest in SaaS startups.

Be sure to check out the TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 agenda — we’ll add more exciting panels, interviews, speaker Q&As and breakout sessions over the next few weeks. Register here to receive updates with the latest additions to the day’s events.

TC Sessions: SaaS is a ripe networking opportunity. Consider this list of just some of the major companies that will be in the house. Whether you’re looking for potential customers, investors, partnerships or some other creative collaboration, you’ll have ample time to network with leaders from the foremost SaaS players.

  • Adobe
  • CBRE
  • FedEx
  • McKinsey & Company
  • Moody’s Analytics
  • SAP
  • Shell Ventures
  • SONY
  • Verizon Ventures

TC Sessions: SaaS 2021, takes place on October 27, and this is your chance to learn from and network with the seriously successful movers, shakers and unicorn makers of the SaaS world. Grab your early bird pass before October 1 at 11:59 pm (PT), and you’ll save $100.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

#artificial-intelligence, #as-a-service, #b2c, #business-models, #casey-aylward, #cloud-applications, #cloud-computing, #computing, #costanoa-ventures, #google, #greylock, #jared-spataro, #javier-soltero, #kathy-baxter, #kobie-fuller, #major, #microsoft, #partner, #salesforce, #sarah-guo, #software, #software-as-a-service, #speaker, #tc, #tc-sessions-saas-2021, #upfront-ventures, #vp

Microsoft Outlook shows real person’s contact info for IDN phishing emails

Shadowy figures stand beneath a Microsoft logo on a faux wood wall.

Enlarge (credit: Drew Angerer | Getty Images)

If you receive an email from someone@arstechnіca.com, is it really from someone at Ars? Most definitely not—the domain in that email address is not the same arstechnica.com that you know. The ‘і’ character in there is from the Cyrillic script and not the Latin alphabet.

This isn’t a novel problem, either. Up until a few years ago (but not anymore), modern browsers did not make any visible distinction when domains containing mixed character sets were typed into the address bar.

And it turns out Microsoft Outlook is no exception, but the problem just got worse: emails originating from a lookalike domain in Outlook would show the contact card of a real person, who is actually registered to the legitimate domain, not the lookalike address.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #cybersecurity, #microsoft, #microsoft-office, #outlook, #phishing, #tech

New Surface hardware is likely to surface at Microsoft’s September 22 event

Microsoft is streaming a Surface-focused hardware event on September 22.

Enlarge / Microsoft is streaming a Surface-focused hardware event on September 22. (credit: Microsoft)

Windows 11 is coming out on October 5, but it’s not the only thing Microsoft has in store this fall. The company will be livestreaming an event at 11 am Eastern on September 22, where it promises to “talk about devices and Windows 11.” Microsoft wasn’t specific about what kinds of devices it plans to reveal, but the looping video on the event site is of a Surface tablet, so it’s not hard to guess. (Before you get too excited, it looks like a Surface Pro X, not a preview of some unannounced product.)

Without more specifics on the kinds of hardware Microsoft intends to focus on, all we can do is speculate. Current rumors suggest that the Surface Duo 2 Android phone or the aging Surface Book 3 are likely candidates, but there are newer processors available that would be suitable for everything from the Surface Pro to the Surface Studio, so refreshes for pretty much everything could be on the table (the Intel version of the Surface Pro is way overdue for a hardware redesign, but we’d at least like to see the 11th-generation Intel Core CPUs from the Surface Pro 7+ come to a Surface Pro device that regular people can easily buy).

The event will be remote and livestreamed from Microsoft’s website, as it was for its Windows 11 event a couple of months ago. This has become the norm for tech product announcements in the pandemic era, including Apple’s and Google’s, but the Windows 11 livestream was a lot less reliable than Apple’s or Google’s typically are; hopefully Microsoft has smoothed out its technical wrinkles in the intervening months.

Read on Ars Technica | Comments

#microsoft, #surface, #tech

Windows 11 launches October 5

Microsoft offered a broad “Holiday 2021” release date when it announced Windows 11, back in June. Of course, it didn’t specify precisely which holiday. Perhaps the company was aiming for World Teachers’ Day, a belated Sukkot or an extremely early Halloween. After strongly implying a late-October release a few months back (which some pointing to the 20th), the company this morning announced that the operating system is set to arrive October 5.

The date is, undoubtedly, on the early side of Microsoft’s release window. The first major release since 2015 will be available as a free upgrade to users with an eligible PC running Windows 10. October 5 will also see the availability of the first systems shipping with Windows 11 preloaded.

windows 11 desktop

Image Credits: Microsoft

Frederic wrote up the first preview build when it became available through the Windows Insider Dev Channel. He noted at the time, “This is definitely more than just another bi-annual Windows 10 update with a few minor UI changes.”

Indeed, the company fittingly offers an 11 point blog post highlighting the major changes that will arrive in the October update. The first – and most immediately apparent – is one that has been around since that earliest preview build. The operating system’s design has been refreshed for a cleaner feel throughout.

That includes new Snap Layouts, Groups and Desktops designed to offer a more organized approach to multitasking. A number of the company’s online services have been more deeply integrated into the OS. Microsoft 365 is built into the Start menu, offering up access to recently viewed files, for more cross-platform integration. Teams, meanwhile, has been added to the taskbar (Microsoft really wants you to use Teams, folks). You’ll find Widgets there, as well, with quick access to information like news, weather, sports and stocks.

There are a range of accessibility updates. In a lengthy post from July, Microsoft highlights those updates, noting, “Accessible technology is a fundamental building block that can unlock opportunities in every part of society. A more accessible Windows experience has the power to help tackle the “disability divide” — to contribute to more education and employment opportunities for people with disabilities across the world.

The Microsoft Store get a design upgrade, as well, and the company has promised more access for independent developers to create new tools for the operating system. The new version of Windows continues to offer a focus on desktop gaming, with features like e DirectX12 Ultimate, DirectStorage and Auto HDR.

Windows 11 widgets

Image Credits: Microsoft

There’s been some confusion around what, precisely, all of this means for unsupported machines of late – as well, as, frankly, which machines qualify as supported. It was reported earlier this week that those systems that don’t fall within Microsoft’s parameters won’t get Windows Update when the new operating system is installed manually. That’s obviously a massive bummer, given that the utility deliveries security patches and other updates.

“The free upgrade to Windows 11 starts on October 5 and will be phased and measured with a focus on quality,” the company writes in this morning’s post. “Following the tremendous learnings from Windows 10, we want to make sure we’re providing you with the best possible experience. That means new eligible devices will be offered the upgrade first. The upgrade will then roll out over time to in-market devices based on intelligence models that consider hardware eligibility, reliability metrics, age of device and other factors that impact the upgrade experience.”

The company says it expects all qualified machines will be offered the upgrade by some point in mid-2022. For those systems that aren’t upgraded, Microsoft says it will continue supporting Windows 10 through October 14, 2025.

#apps, #microsoft, #windows, #windows-11

A majority of tech workers support antitrust legislation enforcement

With the arrival of U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, breaking up Big Tech has reemerged as a major policy discussion in Washington. The issue seems to be bipartisan, with Republicans and Democrats alike in favor of stemming monopolistic behavior in the tech industry. Of course, the situation on the ground is more nuanced.

One month after the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance five bipartisan bills that would force Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google to split up or walk away from core businesses, Republican committee members introduced new legislation to give Americans legal recourse against online censorship by Big Tech companies. The more conservative-driven policy measures also propose greater transparency into content moderation practices by Big Tech.

This sparring between lawmakers on how to regulate Big Tech is not expected to end anytime soon. But as the U.S. ushers in a new era of digital transformation accelerated by the pandemic, Congress stands firmly united in the belief that Big Tech’s power must be checked to preserve the free market.

As it stands now, small competitors and consumers alike have little choice but to be tethered to Big Tech to participate in today’s modern economic engine. And coming out of the pandemic, the five biggest tech giants are growing at breathtaking speed unseen before in the history of capitalism.

Big Tech companies have come out strongly against regulation that would break up their business operations, suggesting reform would result in the loss of research and development, impractical market fragmentation and higher service costs to consumers.

A survey commissioned by a tech industry trade group funded by Big Tech companies such as Apple, Facebook and Amazon suggests that Americans view tech regulation as a low priority for Congress. Among those listed as top priority for Americans were the economy, public health, climate change and infrastructure. The survey also revealed that Americans are more likely to oppose regulation if it were to affect offerings like free shipping on Amazon Prime products.

Perhaps this poll and the bipartisan sentiment among elected leaders signals that after COVID-19, society has become aware of its dependency on tech giants, for better or worse. For the last 18 months, American workers have adapted to remote work. They utilize programs run by Big Tech companies to communicate with other employees, to run companies, and to buy groceries and essentials. It is unlikely this dynamic will change, as many companies have announced their transition to a fully remote or hybrid work model.

This topic has raised interest among professionals, more specifically those who work in the tech industry, startups and small businesses. We at Fishbowl thought we’d ask professionals — many of whom work in the tech industry — about breaking up tech giants. Fishbowl is a social network for professionals, so conducting surveys on this and other workplace topics is a natural fit.

The survey ran from July 26-30, 2021, to determine how employees in the field feel about antitrust laws. The survey asked professionals: Do you believe antitrust legislation should be used to break up Big Tech companies like Amazon and Google?

There were 11,579 verified professionals on the Fishbowl app who participated in the survey, and they were given the option to answer either yes or no. The survey was broken down into state and professional industries such as law, consulting, finance, tech, marketing, accounting, human resources, teachers and others.

Here’s what the survey revealed:

Image Credits: Fishbowl

Out of 11,579 professionals, the majority — 6,920 (59.76%) — responded yes to the survey question.

Based on responses, we found that law professionals were the highest group responding in the affirmative to the survey, with 66.67%. Consulting professionals followed with 61.97%, while finance (60.64%) marginally beat out tech (60.03%). Conversely, teachers had the lowest percentage with 53.49%. Human resources (55.65%), accounting (58.51%) and other professional industries (58.83%) trailed behind.

The survey’s data was collected from professionals in 25 U.S. states. The highest percentage responding “yes” was Colorado with 76.83%. In second place was Washington with 73.17%, and Michigan rounded out the top three with 69.70%. Missouri (51.35%) had the lowest percentage of employees responding “yes” to splitting up Big Tech. Following closely behind were Indiana (52.59%) and Massachusetts (52.83%). Overall, the majority of the states involved in the survey agreed that they believed antitrust legislation should indeed break up Big Tech companies.

Tech had the fourth-highest percentage of professionals agreeing that Big Tech companies should be broken up. Some benefits from breaking up Big Tech companies are more opportunities for small businesses — for a tech professional or entrepreneur, this could open up opportunities to launch new products, programs and services. It could also add more jobs for highly skilled professionals. Second, it can reduce data privacy and national security concerns. But some cons of breaking up Big Tech companies include the loss of research and development — large companies provide major funding for artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, wearables, robots and more. Ultimately, breaking up Big Tech companies can also increase service costs for professionals and the overall public.

As policymakers continue to negotiate on how to break up Big Tech, the White House is also making moves. President Joe Biden recently named Khan, a professor at Columbia Law School, as chair of the FTC. A staunch critic of Big Tech, Khan’s main priority is to protect the public from corporate abuse and ensure merger guidelines reflect economic realities and empirical learning and enforcement. Simply put, she reviews mergers with skepticism.

And in July, Biden announced his intention to nominate Jonathan Kanter for chief of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. Kanter is an antitrust lawyer with over 20 years of experience who has been a leading advocate and expert in the effort to promote strong and meaningful antitrust enforcement and competition policy.

With these additional members, it is expected that there will be an aggressive approach to enforcing antitrust laws across industries, leaving it to Congress to ensure that moving forward things are different.

#amazon, #antitrust, #apple, #big-tech, #column, #congress, #facebook, #google, #government, #joe-biden, #lina-khan, #microsoft, #policy, #tc, #white-house

Clay debuts a new tool to help people better manage their business and personal relationships

A new startup called Clay, backed by $8 million in seed funding, has built a system designed to help you be more thoughtful with the people in your life, which operates somewhat like a personal CRM. With Clay, you build a collection of the people you meet by connecting your email and calendar with social apps, including Twitter and LinkedIn. Clay then populates each person’s entry with all the relevant information you would need to recall for any future meeting — ranging from their work history to latest tweets to the details on how you met and when you last communicated, among other things.

You also can add notes of your own to each entry, click to activate reminders to follow up with certain people and organize entries into groups. The app supports a command bar, keyboard shortcuts and home screen widgets, as well.

The end result is something that’s not exactly an address book but also not necessarily as sales and pipeline-focused as a CRM system.

Clay’s founders instead refer to their app as a “home for your people,” as it’s attempting to carve out a new space in the market for a more personal system of tracking who you know and how.

Image Credits: Clay

The idea for the startup comes from entrepreneurs Matthew Achariam and Zachary Hamed, Clay’s co-founders and co-CEOs, who met back in their early days of working with startups. Prior to starting Clay, Achariam helped lead product at Y Combinator-backed analytics company, Custora, and Hamed led the product management team for Goldman Sachs’ web platform, Marquee.

“We think that people and relationships have played such an important role in our own career trajectories. And we wanted to dive into that,” Hamed explains, when speaking about what prompted their interest in building Clay.

To get started with Clay — which is available as a web, desktop and mobile app — you’ll first connect your accounts. At present, Clay supports Microsoft Outlook/Office 365, Google Calendar, Gmail/Google Mail and Twitter. You also can add other services via Zapier integrations. After setup, Clay will then automatically track your meetings and personal connections, and augment people’s entries with other details pulled from the web, like their background and work experience listed on LinkedIn and latest tweets.

People’s entries will also detail how you met the person — something people tend to forget over time. For example, they may be noted as a connection you made on LinkedIn, or someone you met in person or in an online meeting.

Through Clay’s desktop app, you also can optionally connect Clay with iMessage, which allows it to augment its people entries with phone numbers and details about when you last communicated. However, this feature should be met with some caution. While Clay doesn’t import the content of your messages, the company says, it has to work around the lack of an official API or SDK to perform this integration. That means the feature requires full disk access in order to function. That’s an elevated security permission some will not feel comfortable using.

Image Credits: Clay

The founders, however, say they’ve built Clay to respect people’s privacy and security. The company’s privacy policy is human-readable and each integration is explained in terms of what data is pulled, what’s not pulled and how the data is used. Currently, data is encrypted on Clay’s servers and in transit, but the goal — and part of what the funding round is going toward — is to make Clay work fully locally on users’ devices.

“We want it to work fully on your machine. We don’t want to be storing any data at all,” says Hamed. “To do that is a very technically complex task, so it was prohibitively out of reach for Matt and I as we were building Clay in the beginning. But now that we have resources, that is our eventual goal.”

Still, Clay may face a difficult time convincing users that it’s safe, due to how many times people have been burned in the past over “smart” address books that abused users’ private data. Only last year, a new startup in this space, Sunshine Contacts, was found to be distributing people’s home addresses, even though these people hadn’t signed up for the app. Many other prior efforts also failed because they overstepped user privacy concerns in order to generate revenue.

Achariam believes the problem with these earlier products was often the business model they adopted.

“That was one of the things we really were thinking about when we started going into the space — because we, ourselves, wanted something like this — and every product that we saw kind of rubbed us the wrong way or exploded because of those reasons,” notes Achariam, of the smart address market’s history. “A lot of these things started off with making the user the product. And then you weren’t paying for it. There was no sustainable business model and at some point, they had to balance those trade-offs,” he says.

Image Credits: Clay

Clay is doing things differently. It’s starting from day one with a pricing plan that will allow it to self-sustain. Right now, that’s a fairly steep $20 per month, but the goal is to bring that down over time and introduce a free plan. (It’s also offering cheaper access to certain groups, like students and nonprofits, if a request is emailed.)

During testing, Clay was adopted by a number of different types of users, including teachers who wanted to remember students and their parents; a congressional candidate who wanted to track their constituents; and a veterinarian who wanted to remember customers and their pets.

“We intentionally made it really cross-industry, cross-disciplinary. We didn’t think that this was a tech problem or investor problem. We went broader,” notes Hamed.

The startup has raised a total of $8 million in seed funding from 2019 through 2020. The funding was led by Forerunner Ventures, with participation from General Catalyst.

Angel investors include Shannon Brayton, former CMO at LinkedIn; Kevin Hartz, former CEO of Eventbrite; Kelvin Beachum, an NFL player, philanthropist and investor; Lindsay Kaplan, co-founder of Chief and former VP of Communications and Brand at Casper; Zoelle Egner, former marketing lead at Airtable; Adam Evans, former CTO of RelateIQ; Charlie Songhurst, former head of corporate strategy at Microsoft; Sam Lessin, former VP of product management at Facebook; Jonah Goodhart, former CEO of Moat and SVP at Oracle; Jeff Morris Jr., Chapter One Ventures and others.

“Emerging from COVID, people are recognizing what had already become true. Relationships are increasingly digital, formed through online interaction and honed through messaging apps. So, how is it that we can be continuously connected, yet increasingly lonely at the same time?” stated Forerunner GP Brian O’Malley, about his firm’s investment. “The problem is that existing social products don’t serve you as the end user. You are just a pawn for some other customer, like a recruiter or some unknown advertiser. Clay is the first relationship software company built to understand all the signals that drive your connections, helping you form better ones with a broader set of people. Clay understands that your network is yours, so you should be empowered to own it,” he added.

Clay is currently opened to sign-ups through its website.

#apps, #computing, #crm, #customer-relationship-management, #desktop-app, #facebook, #forerunner-ventures, #funding, #general-catalyst, #google, #linkedin, #microsoft, #mobile, #networking, #privacy, #relationship-management, #relationships, #social-networking, #software, #startups, #web-app

Microsoft is discontinuing its Office apps for Chromebook users in favor of web versions 

Since 2017, Microsoft has offered its Office suite to Chromebook users via the Google Play store, but that is set to come to an end in a few short weeks.

As of September 18, Microsoft is discontinuing support for Office (which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Outlook) on Chromebook. Microsoft is not, however, abandoning the popular mobile device altogether. Instead of an app that is downloaded, Microsoft is encouraging users to go to the web instead.

“In an effort to provide the most optimized experience for Chromebook customers, Microsoft apps (Office and Outlook) will be transitioned to web experiences (Office.com and Outlook.com) on September 18, 2021,” Microsoft wrote in a statement emailed to TechCrunch. 

Microsoft’s statement also noted that “this transition brings Chromebook customers access to additional and premium features.” 

The Microsoft web experience will serve to transition its base of Chromebook users to the Microsoft 365 service, which provides more Office templates and generally more functionality than what the app-based approach provides. The web approach is also more optimized for larger screens than the app.

In terms of how Microsoft wants Chromebook users to get access to Office and Outlook, the plan is for customers to, “…sign in with their personal Microsoft Account or account associated with their Microsoft 365 subscription,” according to the statement. Microsoft has also provided online documentation to show users how to run Office on a Chromebook.

Chromebooks run on Google’s Chrome OS, which is a Linux-based operating system. Chromebooks also enable Android apps to run, as Android is also Linux based, with apps downloaded from Google Play. It’s important to note that while support for Chromebooks is going away, Microsoft is not abandoning other Android-based mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones.

For those Chromebook users that have already downloaded the Microsoft Office apps, the apps will continue to function after September 18, though they will not receive any support or future updates.

#android, #chrome-os, #chromebook, #cloud, #enterprise, #google-play-store, #laptops, #microsoft, #microsoft-365, #microsoft-office, #mobile-devices, #operating-systems, #outlook-com

Stipop offers developers and creators instant access to a huge global sticker library

With more than 270,000 stickers, Stipop’s library of colorful, character-driven expressions has a little something for everyone.

The company offers keyboard and social app stickers through ad-supported mobile apps on iOS and Android, but it’s recently focused more on providing stickers to developers, creators and other online businesses.

“We were able to gather so many artists because we actually began as our own app that provided stickers,” Stipop co-founder Tony Park told TechCrunch. The team took what they learned from running their own consumer-facing app — namely that collecting and licensing hundreds of thousands of stickers from artists around the world is hard work — and adapted their business to help solve that problem for others.

Stipop was the first Korean company to go through Yellow, Snapchat’s exclusive accelerator. The company is also part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 cohort.

Stipop’s sticker library is accessible through an SDK and an API, letting developers slot the searchable sticker library into their existing software. The company already has more than 200 companies that tap into its huge sticker trove, which offers a “single-day solution” for a process that would otherwise necessitate a lot more legwork. Stipop launched a website recently that helps developers integrate its SDK and API through quick installs.

“They can just add a single line of code inside their product and will have a fully customized sticker feature [so] users will be able to spice up their chats,” Park said.

Park points out that stickers encourage engagement — and for social software, engagement means growth. Stickers are a playful way to send characters back and forth in chat, but they also pop up in a number of other less obvious spots, from dating apps to ecommerce and ridesharing apps. Stipop even drives the sticker search in work collaboration software Microsoft Teams.

The company has already partnered with Google, which uses Stipop’s sticker library in Gboard, Android Messages and Tenor, a GIF keyboard platform that Google bought in 2018. That partnership drove 600 million sticker views within the first month. A new partnership between Stipop and Coca-Cola on the near horizon will add Coke-branded stickers to its sticker library and the company is opening its doors to more brands that understand the unique appeal of stickers in messaging apps.

Park says that people tend to compare stickers and gifs, two ways of wordlessly expressing emotion and social nuance, but stickers are a world unto themselves. Stickers exist in their own creative universe, with star artists, regional themes and original casts of characters that take on a life of their own among fans. “Sticker creators have their own profession,” Park said.

Visual artists can also find a lot of traction releasing stickers, even without sophisticated illustrations. And since they’re all about meaning rather than refinement, non-designers and less skilled artists can craft hit stickers too.

“Stickers are great for them because it [is] so easy to go viral,” Park said. The company has partnered with 8,000 sticker creators across 25 languages, helping those artists monetize their creations and generate income based on how many times a sticker is shared.

Stickers command their own visual language around the world, and Park has observed interesting cultural differences in how people use them to communicate. In the West, stickers are often used in place of text, but in Asia, where they’re used much more frequently, people usually send stickers to enhance rather than replace the meaning of text.

In East Asia, users tend to prefer simple black and white stickers, but in India and Saudi Arabia, bright, golden stickers top the trends. In South America, popular stickers take on a more pixelated, unique quality that resonates culturally there.

“With stickers, you fall in love with [the] characters you send… that becomes you,” Park said.

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Big Tech pledges billions to bolster U.S. cybersecurity defenses

Tech giants Apple, Google and Microsoft have pledged billions to bolster U.S. cybersecurity following a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday.

The meeting, which also included attendees from the financial and education sectors, was held following months of high-profile cyberattacks against critical infrastructure and several U.S. government agencies, along with a glaring cybersecurity skills gap; according to data from CyberSeek, there are currently almost 500,000 cybersecurity jobs across the U.S that remain unfilled.

“Most of our critical infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector, and the federal government can’t meet this challenge alone,” Biden said at the start of the meeting. “I’ve invited you all here today because you have the power, the capacity and the responsibility, I believe, to raise the bar on cybersecurity.”

In order to help the U.S. in its fight against a growing number of cyberattacks, Big Tech pledged to invest billions of dollars to strengthen cybersecurity defenses and to train skilled cybersecurity workers.

Apple has vowed to work with its 9,000-plus suppliers in the U.S. to drive “mass adoption” of multi-factor authentication and security training, according to the White House, as well as to establish a new program to drive continuous security improvements throughout the technology supply chain.

Google said it will invest more than $10 billion over the next five years to expand zero-trust programs, help secure the software supply chain, and to enhance open source security. The search and ads giant has also pledged to train 100,000 Americans in fields like IT support and data analytics, learning in-demand skills including data privacy and security.

“Robust cybersecurity ultimately depends on having the people to implement it,” said Kent Walker, Google’s global affairs chief. “That includes people with digital skills capable of designing and executing cybersecurity solutions, as well as promoting awareness of cybersecurity risks and protocols among the broader population.”

And, Microsoft said it’s committing $20 billion to integrate cybersecurity by design and deliver “advanced security solutions.” It also announced that it will immediately make available $150 million in technical services to help federal, state, and local governments with upgrading security protection, and will expand partnerships with community colleges and non-profits for cybersecurity training.

Other attendees included Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s cloud computing arm, and IBM. The former has said it will make its security awareness training available to the public and equip all AWS customers with hardware multi-factor authentication devices, while IBM said it will help to train more than 150,000 people in cybersecurity skills over the next five years.

While many have welcomed Big Tech’s commitments, David Carroll, managing director at Nominet Cyber, told TechCrunch that these latest initiatives set a “powerful precedent” and show “the gloves are well and truly off” — some within the cybersecurity industry remain skeptical.

Following the announcement, some infosec veterans noted that many of the vacant cybersecurity jobs the U.S. is looking to fill