7 new security features Apple quietly announced at WWDC

Apple went big on privacy during its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote this week, showcasing features from on-device Siri audio processing to a new privacy dashboard for iOS that makes it easier than ever to see which apps are collecting your data and when.

While typically vocal about security during the Memoji-filled, two-hour-long(!) keynote, the company also quietly introduced several new security and privacy-focused features during its WWDC developer sessions. We’ve rounded up some of the most interesting — and important.

Passwordless login with iCloud Keychain

Apple is the latest tech company taking steps to ditch the password. During its “Move beyond passwords” developer session, it previewed Passkeys in iCloud Keychain, a method of passwordless authentication powered by WebAuthn, and Face ID and Touch ID.

The feature, which will ultimately be available in both iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, means you no longer have to set a password when creating an account or a website or app. Instead, you’ll simply pick a username, and then use Face ID or Touch ID to confirm it’s you. The passkey is then stored in your keychain and then synced across your Apple devices using iCloud — so you don’t have to remember it, nor do you have to carry around a hardware authenticator key.

“Because it’s just a single tap to sign in, it’s simultaneously easier, faster and more secure than almost all common forms of authentication today,” said Garrett Davidson, an Apple authentication experience engineer. 

While it’s unlikely to be available on your iPhone or Mac any time soon — Apple says the feature is still in its ‘early stages’ and it’s currently disabled by default — the move is another sign of the growing momentum behind eliminating passwords, which are prone to being forgotten, reused across multiple services, and — ultimately — phishing attacks. Microsoft previously announced plans to make Windows 10 password-free, and Google recently confirmed that it’s working towards “creating a future where one day you won’t need a password at all”.

Microphone indicator in macOS

macOS has a new indicator to tell you when the microhpone is on. (Image: Apple)

Since the introduction of iOS 14, iPhone users have been able to keep an eye on which apps are accessing their microphone via a green or orange dot in the status bar. Now it’s coming to the desktop too.

In macOS Monterey, users will be able to see which apps are accessing their Mac’s microphone in Control Center, MacRumors reports, which will complement the existing hardware-based green light that appears next to a Mac’s webcam when the camera is in use.

Secure paste

iOS 15, which will include a bunch of privacy-bolstering tools from Mail Privacy Protection to App Privacy Reports, is also getting a feature called Secure Paste that will help to shield your clipboard data from other apps.

This feature will enable users to paste content from one app to another, without the second app being able to access the information on the clipboard until you paste it. This is a significant improvement over iOS 14, which would notify when an app took data from the clipboard but did nothing to prevent it from happening.

With secure paste, developers can let users paste from a different app without having access to what was copied until the user takes action to paste it into their app,” Apple explains. “When developers use secure paste, users will be able to paste without being alerted via the [clipboard] transparency notification, helping give them peace of mind.”

While this feature sounds somewhat insignificant, it’s being introduced following a major privacy issue that came to light last year. In March 2020, security researchers revealed that dozens of popular iOS apps — including TikTok — were “snooping” on users’ clipboard without their consent, potentially accessing highly sensitive data.

Advanced Fraud Protection for Apple Card

Payments fraud is more prevalent than ever as a result of the pandemic, and Apple is looking to do something about it. As first reported by 9to5Mac, the company has previewed Advanced Fraud Protection, a feature that will let Apple Card users generate new card numbers in the Wallet app.

While details remain thin — the feature isn’t live in the first iOS 15 developer beta — Apple’s explanation suggests that Advanced Fraud Protection will make it possible to generate new security codes — the three-digit number you enter at checkout – when making online purchases. 

“With Advanced Fraud Protection, Apple Card users can have a security code that changes regularly to make online Card Number transactions even more secure,” the brief explainer reads. We’ve asked Apple for some more information. 

‘Unlock with Apple Watch’ for Siri requests

As a result of the widespread mask-wearing necessitated by the pandemic, Apple introduced an ‘Unlock with Apple Watch’ in iOS 14.5 that let enabled users to unlock their iPhone and authenticate Apple Pay payments using an Apple Watch instead of Face ID.

The scope of this feature is expanding with iOS 15, as the company has confirmed that users will soon be able to use this alternative authentication method for Siri requests, such as adjusting phone settings or reading messages. Currently, users have to enter a PIN, password or use Face ID to do so.

“Use the secure connection to your Apple Watch for Siri requests or to unlock your iPhone when an obstruction, like a mask, prevents Face ID from recognizing your Face,” Apple explains. Your watch must be passcode protected, unlocked, and on your wrist close by.”

Standalone security patches

To ensure iPhone users who don’t want to upgrade to iOS 15 straight away are up to date with security updates, Apple is going to start decoupling patches from feature updates. When iOS 15 lands later this year, users will be given the option to update to the latest version of iOS or to stick with iOS 14 and simply install the latest security fixes. 

“iOS now offers a choice between two software update versions in the Settings app,” Apple explains (via MacRumors). “You can update to the latest version of iOS 15 as soon as it’s released for the latest features and most complete set of security updates. Or continue on ‌iOS 14‌ and still get important security updates until you’re ready to upgrade to the next major version.”

This feature sees Apple following in the footsteps of Google, which has long rolled out monthly security patches to Android users.

‘Erase all contents and settings’ for Mac

Wiping a Mac has been a laborious task that has required you to erase your device completely then reinstall macOS. Thankfully, that’s going to change. Apple is bringing the “erase all contents and settings” option that’s been on iPhones and iPads for years to macOS Monterey.

The option will let you factory reset your MacBook with just a click. “System Preferences now offers an option to erase all user data and user-installed apps from the system, while maintaining the operating system currently installed,” Apple says. “Because storage is always encrypted on Mac systems with Apple Silicon or the T2 chip, the system is instantly and securely ‘erased’ by destroying the encryption keys.”

#android, #apple, #apple-inc, #clipboard, #computing, #control-center, #encryption, #face-id, #google, #icloud, #ios, #ios-14, #ipads, #iphone, #keychain, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #online-purchases, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #privacy, #security, #siri, #software

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Huawei officially launches Android alternative HarmonyOS for smartphones

Think you’re living in a hyper-connected world? Huawei’s proprietary HarmonyOS wants to eliminate delays and gaps in user experience when you move from one device onto another by adding interoperability to all devices, regardless of the system that powers them.

Two years after Huawei was added to the U.S. entity list that banned the Chinese telecom giant from accessing U.S. technologies, including core chipsets and Android developer services from Google, Huawei’s alternative smartphone operating system was unveiled.

On Wednesday, Huawei officially launched its proprietary operating system HarmonyOS for mobile phones. The firm began building the operating system in 2016 and made it open-source for tablets, electric vehicles and smartwatches last September. Its flagship devices such as Mate 40 could upgrade to HarmonyOS starting Wednesday, with the operating system gradually rolling out on lower-end models in the coming quarters.

HarmonyOS is not meant to replace Android or iOS, Huawei said. Rather, its application is more far-reaching, powering not just phones and tablets but an increasing number of smart devices. To that end, Huawei has been trying to attract hardware and home appliance manufacturers to join its ecosystem.

To date, more than 500,000 developers are building applications based on HarmonyOS. It’s unclear whether Google, Facebook and other mainstream apps in the West are working on HarmonyOS versions.

Some Chinese tech firms have answered Huawei’s call. Smartphone maker Meizu hinted on its Weibo account that its smart devices might adopt HarmonyOS. Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi, who are much larger players than Meizu, are probably more reluctant to embrace a rival’s operating system.

Huawei’s goal is to collapse all HarmonyOS-powered devices into one single control panel, which can, say, remotely pair the Bluetooth connections of headphones and a TV. A game that is played on a phone can be continued seamlessly on a tablet. A smart soymilk blender can customize a drink based on the health data gleaned from a user’s smartwatch.

Devices that aren’t already on HarmonyOS can also communicate with Huawei devices with a simple plug-in. Photos from a Windows-powered laptop can be saved directly onto a Huawei phone if the computer has the HarmonyOS plug-in installed. That raises the question of whether Android, or even iOS, could, one day, talk to HarmonyOS through a common language.

The HarmonyOS launch arrived days before Apple’s annual developer event scheduled for next week. A recent job posting from Apple mentioned a seemingly new concept, homeOS, which may have to do with Apple’s smart home strategy, as noted by Macrumors.

Huawei denied speculations that HarmonyOS is a derivative of Android and said no single line of code is identical to that of Android. A spokesperson for Huawei declined to say whether the operating system is based on Linux, the kernel that powers Android.

Several tech giants have tried to introduce their own mobile operating systems to no avail. Alibaba built AliOS based on Linux but has long stopped updating it. Samsung flirted with its own Tizen but the operating system is limited to powering a few Internet of Things like smart TVs.

Huawei may have a better shot at drumming up developer interest compared to its predecessors. It’s still one of China’s largest smartphone brands despite losing a chunk of its market after the U.S. government cut it off critical chip suppliers, which could hamper its ability to make cutting-edge phones. HarmonyOS also has a chance to create an alternative for developers who are disgruntled with Android, if Huawei is able to capture their needs.

The U.S. sanctions do not block Huawei from using Android’s open-source software, which major Chinese smartphone makers use to build their third-party Android operating system. But the ban was like a death knell for Huawei’s consumer markets overseas as its phones abroad lost access to Google Play services.

#alibaba, #android, #apple, #asia, #bluetooth, #china, #facebook, #gadgets, #harmonyos, #huawei, #internet-of-things, #linux, #meizu, #microsoft-windows, #mobile, #mobile-linux, #mobile-operating-system, #mobile-phones, #open-source-software, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #smart-devices, #smartphone, #smartphones, #tc, #xiaomi

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Microsoft Azure launches enterprise support for PyTorch

Microsoft today announced PyTorch Enterprise, a new Azure service that provides developers with additional support when using PyTorch on Azure. It’s basically Microsoft’s commercial support offering for PyTorch

PyTorch is a Python-centric open-source machine learning framework with a focus on computer vision and natural language processing. It was originally developed by Facebook and is, at least to some degree, comparable to Google’s popular TensorFlow framework.

Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft’s corporate VP for communications, described the new PyTorch Enterprise service as providing developers with “a more reliable production experience for organizations using PyTorch in their data sciences work.”

With PyTorch Enterprise, members of Microsoft’s Premier and Unified support program will get benefits like prioritized requests, hands-on support and solutions for hotfixes, bugs and security patches, Shaw explained. Every year, Microsoft will also select one PyTorch support for long-term support.

Azure already made it relatively easy to use PyTorch and Microsoft has long invested in the library by, for example, taking over the development of PyTorch for Windows last year. As Microsoft noted in today’s announcement, the latest release of PyTorch will be integrated with Azure Machine Learning and the company promises to feed back the PyTorch code it developers back to the public PyTorch distribution.

Enterprise support will be available for PyTorch version 1.8.1 and up on Windows 10 and a number of popular Linux distributions.

“This new enterprise-level offering by Microsoft closes an important gap. PyTorch gives our researchers unprecedented flexibility in designing their models and running their experiments,” said Jeremy Jancsary, Senior Principal Research Scientist at Nuance. “Serving these models in production, however, can be a challenge. The direct involvement of Microsoft lets us deploy new versions of PyTorch to Azure with confidence.”

With this new offering, Microsoft is taking a page out of the open-source monetization playbook for startups by offering additional services on top of an open-source project. Since PyTorch wasn’t developed by a startup, only to have a major cloud provider then offer its own commercial version on top of the open-source code, this feels like a rather uncontroversial move.

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#artificial-intelligence, #deep-learning, #developer, #facebook, #free-software, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #natural-language-processing, #premier, #programming-languages, #python, #pytorch, #software, #tensorflow

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Microsoft’s Edge browser can now start up faster and put your tabs to sleep

At its annual Build conference today, Microsoft announced a couple of new features for version 91 of its Edge browser that, like so much at Build this year, aren’t earth-shattering (developer velocity!) but nice quality-of-life upgrades for its users. Since Microsoft develops Edge in the open, these may also feel familiar to those who keep a close eye on the Edge roadmap – indeed, I think I’ve seen most of these in Edge 90 already…

One new feature is Startup Boost, which allows Edge to start up almost instantly. The way Microsoft does this is pretty straightforward. It simply loads some of the core Edge processes whenever you boot up your Windows machine, so when you task Edge with starting up, there isn’t all that much work left to do. This shouldn’t have too much of an effect on your Windows 10 bootup time, so it’s probably a trade-off worth making, but I also can’t recall anybody complaining about browser startup times in the last couple of years either.

The other new feature is ‘sleeping tabs,’ which does pretty much what you expect it to do. It puts your tabs to sleep so they don’t use up unnecessary memory and CPU cycles.

Microsoft first announced that it was testing this feature back in December and at the time, the Edge team said that it reduces memory usage by 32% and helps improve battery life as well, given that sleeping tabs use 37% less CPU on average compared to non-sleeping tabs.

It’s worth noting that Google’s Chrome browser, which shares many of its underlying technology with Edge, also features tools to limit resource usage, including what Google calls ‘tab freezing,’ as does virtually every other major browser today.

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#edge, #freeware, #google, #google-chrome, #major, #microsoft, #microsoft-build-2021, #microsoft-edge, #microsoft-windows, #operating-systems, #software, #tab, #tc, #web-browsers, #windows-10

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Esper raises $30M Series B for its IoT DevOps platform

There may be billions of IoT devices in use today, but the tooling around building (and updating) the software for them still leaves a lot to be desired. Esper, which today announced that it has raised a $30 million Series B round, builds the tools to enable developers and engineers to deploy and manage fleets of Android-based edge devices. The round was led by Scale Venture Partners, with participation from Madrona Venture Group, Root Ventures, Ubiquity Ventures and Haystack.

The company argues that there are thousands of device manufacturers who are building these kinds of devices on Android alone, but that scaling and managing these deployments comes with a lot of challenges. The core idea here is that Esper brings to device development the DevOps experience that software developers now expect. The company argues that its tools allow companies to forgo building their own internal DevOps teams and instead use its tooling to scale their Android-based IoT fleets for use cases that range from digital signage and kiosks to custom solutions in healthcare, retail, logistics and more.

“The pandemic has transformed industries like connected fitness, digital health, hospitality, and food delivery, further accelerating the adoption of intelligent edge devices. But with each new use case, better software automation is required,” said Yadhu Gopalan, CEO and co-founder at Esper. “Esper’s mature cloud infrastructure incorporates the functionality cloud developers have come to expect, re-imagined for devices.”

Image Credits: Esper

Mobile device management (MDM) isn’t exactly a new thing, but the Esper team argues that these tools weren’t created for this kind of use case. “MDMs are the solution now in the market. They are made for devices being brought into an environment,” Gopalan said. “The DNA of these solutions is rooted in protecting the enterprise and to deploy applications to them in the network. Our customers are sending devices out into the wild. It’s an entirely different use case and model.”

To address these challenges, Esper offers a range of tools and services that includes a full development stack for developers, cloud-based services for device management and hardware emulators to get started with building custom devices.

“Esper helped us launch our Fusion-connected fitness offering on three different types of hardware in less than six months,” said Chris Merli, founder at Inspire Fitness. “Their full stack connected fitness Android platform helped us test our application on different hardware platforms, configure all our devices over the cloud, and manage our fleet exactly to our specifications. They gave us speed, Android expertise, and trust that our application would provide a delightful experience for our customers.”

The company also offers solutions for running Android on older x86 Windows devices to extend the life of this hardware, too.

“We spent about a year and a half on building out the infrastructure,” said Gopalan. “Definitely. That’s the hard part and that’s really creating a reliable, robust mechanism where customers can trust that the bits will flow to the devices. And you can also roll back if you need to.”

Esper is working with hardware partners to launch devices that come with built-in Esper-support from the get-go.

Esper says it saw 70x revenue growth in the last year, an 8x growth in paying customers and a 15x growth in devices running Esper. Since we don’t know the baseline, those numbers are meaningless, but the investors clearly believe that Esper is on to something. Current customers include the likes of CloudKitchens, Spire Health, Intelity, Ordermark, Inspire Fitness, RomTech and Uber.

#ambient-intelligence, #android, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #developer, #device-management, #enterprise, #esper, #hardware, #healthcare, #internet-of-things, #iot, #madrona-venture-group, #microsoft-windows, #mobile-device-management, #operating-systems, #recent-funding, #retail, #root-ventures, #scale-venture-partners, #smartphones, #software-automation, #software-developers, #startups, #tc, #technology, #uber, #ubiquity-ventures

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So long, Internet Explorer, and your decades of security bugs

Image Credits: Louis Douvis / Getty Images

Pour one out for Internet Explorer, the long-enduring internet browser that’s been the butt of countless jokes about its speed, reliability, and probably most notable of all, security, which will retire next year after more than 25 years of service.

Microsoft said it will pull the plug on the browser’s life support in June 2022, giving its last remaining half a dozen or so users a solid year to transition to Chrome or Firefox — let’s be honest here — though other respectable browsers are available. There will be some exceptions to the end-of-life plan, such as industrial machines that need the browser to operate.

For years, Microsoft has nudged Internet Explorer users towards its newer Edge browser as a more reliable and secure alternative to the ailing Internet Explorer, often in the most obnoxious ways possible by splashing on-screen ads the second you flirt with using a rival browser. As the wider web’s support for Internet Explorer dwindled, enterprises have also begun phasing out support for the browser.

But in ending support for Internet Explorer, Microsoft is parting ways with one of the most problematic security headaches in its history.

Virtually no other software has been subject to more security bugs than Internet Explorer, in large part due to its longevity. Microsoft has patched Internet Explorer almost every month for the past two decades, trying to stay one step ahead of the hackers who find and exploit vulnerabilities in the browser to drop malware on their victims’ computers. Internet Explorer was hardened over the years, but it lagged behind its competitors, which sped ahead with frequent, almost invisible security updates and tougher sandboxing to prevent malware from running on the user’s computer.

As much as it’s easy to hate on Internet Explorer, it’s been with us for almost three decades since it debuted in Windows 95, and it’s served us well. For many of us who grew up on the internet in our teens and twenties, Internet Explorer was the first — and really the only — browser we used. Most of us signed up for our first Hotmail email address with Internet Explorer. We learned how to code our MySpace page using that browser, and we downloaded a lot — and I mean a lot — of suspicious-looking, malware-packed “games” that slowed the computer down to a crawl but thought nothing of it.

I remember, as a 10-(ish)-year-old child, seeing for the first time the pixelated Internet Explorer icon on that bright, teal wallpapered cathode-ray monitor in a cold attic room in our family home, because, not really knowing what the internet was, I complained to my father: “I don’t want to just explore the internet. I want to see the whole thing.”

Thanks to Internet Explorer, I got to see a large part of it.

#browser-security, #freeware, #google-chrome, #internet-explorer, #microsoft, #microsoft-edge, #microsoft-windows, #security, #software, #web-browsers, #windows-95

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Google updates its cross-platform Flutter UI toolkit

Flutter, Google’s cross-platform UI toolkit for building mobile and desktop apps, is getting a small but important update at the company’s I/O conference today. Google also announced that Flutter now powers 200,000 apps in the Play Store alone, including popular apps from companies like WeChat, ByteDance, BMW, Grab and DiDi. Indeed, Google notes that 1 in 8 new apps in the Play Store are now Flutter apps.

The launch of Flutter 2.2 follows Google’s rollout of Flutter 2, which first added support for desktop and web apps in March, so it’s no surprise that this is a relatively minor release. In many ways, the update builds on top of the features the company introduced in version 2 and reliability and performance improvements.

Version 2.2 makes null safety the default for new projects, for example, to add protections against null reference exceptions. As for performance, web apps can now use background caching using service workers, for example, while Android apps can use deferred components and iOS apps get support for precompiled shaders to make first runs smoother.

Google also worked on streamlining the overall process of bringing Flutter apps to desktop platforms (Windows, macOS and Linux).

But as Google notes, a lot of the work right now is happening in the ecosystem. Google itself is introducing a new payment plugin for Flutter built in partnership with the Google Pay team and Google’s ads SDK for Flutter is getting support for adaptive banner formats. Meanwhile, Samsung is now porting Flutter to Tizen and Sony is leading an effort to bring it to embedded Linux. Adobe recently announced its XD to Flutter plugin for its design tool and Microsoft today launched the alpha of Flutter support for Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps for Windows 10 in alpha.

#adobe, #alpha, #android, #bytedance, #caching, #chrome-os, #computing, #flutter, #google, #google-i-o-2021, #google-pay, #linux, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #operating-systems, #play-store, #samsung, #sony, #tc, #universal-windows-platform, #web-apps, #wechat, #windows-10

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Canada’s newest unicorn: Clio raises $110M at a $1.6B valuation for legal tech

Clio, a software company that helps law practices run more efficiently with its cloud-based technology, announced Tuesday it has raised a $110 million Series E round co-led by T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. and OMERS Growth Equity.

The round propels the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company to unicorn status, valuing it at $1.6 billion. Clio last raised in September of 2019 when it brought in $250 million in a Series D financing. With the latest funding, Clio claims that it’s the “first legal practice management unicorn” globally. The investment also brings its total capital raised since its 2008 inception to $386 million.

Founder and CEO Jack Newton says he and Rian Gauvreau launched Clio during the 2008 recession after seeing the struggles solo lawyers and small firms faced when running a business. Historically, legal practice management software was limited to server-based solutions designed for enterprise businesses — not small law firms, Newton said. Clio was formed to change that.

Clio co-founders Jack Newton and Rian Gauvreau; Image courtesy of Clio

“Much like how Microsoft Windows defined the operating system for personal computers decades ago, Clio has developed a software platform for law firms and their clients that is cloud-based and client-centric by design,” Newton said.

The company’s platform aims to serve as “an operating system” for lawyers, offering cloud-based legal practice management, client intake and legal CRM software. Clio has more than 150,000 customers across 100 countries. Many of the lawyers using Clio are smaller and solo practitioners, but the company also serves larger firms such as Locks Law and King Law.

Newton said his vertical SaaS company helps legal professionals be more productive, grow their firms and “make legal services more accessible.” It also aims to help clients find lawyers more easily and vice versa.

Image Credits: Clio

Newton was tight-lipped about the company’s financials, saying only that since its 2019 raise, the company has seen “explosive” growth. That growth was only fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic and its push toward all things digital. He added that its current valuation was “fair,” and achieved through a “thorough” vetting process.

Clio has focused on building out its core technology to an industry that has historically relied on pen and paper in many cases. It has also aimed to make legal technology more affordable for lawyers to use.

While change has been gradual, COVID-19 forced lawyers to fundamentally reevaluate how they run their law firms and how they deliver legal services to their clients, Newton said.

“Many firms realized that storing client data at the office was no longer an option as teams became distributed during COVID-19,” he added. “Lawyers and legal professionals who had hesitated to adopt technology in the past were suddenly forced to rapidly adapt to this new reality. While this technological change is in response to the crisis, it’s an enduring change.”

In 2018, Clio made its first acquisition with its buy of Lexicata, a Los Angeles-based legal tech startup. The company plans to do more acquisitions with the capital, according to Newton. The company plans to use its new capital to continue investing in its platform as well as toward strategic partnerships. (Clio currently has partnered with over 150 apps.)

Clio also plans to, naturally, do some hiring. Specifically, it plans to boost its headcount by 40%, or 250 employees, with a focus on bolstering its product and engineering teams. (Clio currently has 600 employees.)

“Over the next few years we intend to completely redefine the way legal services are delivered and democratize access to legal aid by way of the cloud,” Newton told TechCrunch. “This investment allows us to expedite our plans and offer even more to our existing customers.”

Clio in particular is growing in the EMEA markets with a current focus on the United Kingdom and Ireland.

In a written statement, OMERS Growth Equity managing director Mark Shulgan said his firm has been following Clio for a number of years.

“We believe Clio has clearly established itself as a market-leading legal tech firm, and will deliver growth for decades to come,” he said.

#canada, #cars, #clio, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #crm, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ireland, #law-firm, #law-firms, #legal-services, #legal-tech, #legal-technology, #los-angeles, #microsoft-windows, #omers-growth-equity, #operating-system, #recent-funding, #saas, #software, #software-platform, #startups, #t-rowe-price, #vancouver, #venture-capital

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Google’s Anthos multi-cloud platform gets improved logging, Windows container support and more

Google today announced a sizable update to its Anthos multi-cloud platform that lets you build, deploy and manage containerized applications anywhere, including on Amazon’s AWS and (in preview) on Microsoft Azure.

Version 1.7 includes new features like improved metrics and logging for Anthos on AWS, a new Connect gateway to interact with any cluster right from Google Cloud and a preview of Google’s managed control plane for Anthos Service Mesh. Other new features include Windows container support for environments that use VMware’s vSphere platform and new tools for developers to make it easier for them to deploy their applications to any Anthos cluster.

Today’s update comes almost exactly two years after Google CEO Sundar Pichai originally announced Anthos at its Cloud Next event in 2019 (before that, Google called this project the ‘Google Cloud Services Platform,’ which launched three years ago). Hybrid- and multi-cloud, it’s fair to say, takes a key role in the Google Cloud roadmap — and maybe more so for Google than for any of its competitors. And recently, Google brought on industry veteran Jeff Reed to become the VP of Product Management in charge of Anthos.

Reed told me that he believes that there are a lot of factors right now that are putting Anthos in a good position. “The wind is at our back. We bet on Kubernetes, bet on containers — those were good decisions,” he said. Increasingly, customers are also now scaling out their use of Kubernetes and have to figure out how to best scale out their clusters and deploy them in different environments — and to do so, they need a consistent platform across these environments. He also noted that when it comes to bringing on new Anthos customers, it’s really those factors that determine whether a company will look into Anthos or not.

He acknowledged that there are other players in this market, but he argues that Google Cloud’s take on this is also quite different. “I think we’re pretty unique in the sense that we’re from the cloud, cloud-native is our core approach,” he said. “A lot of what we talk about in [Anthos] 1.7 is about how we leverage the power of the cloud and use what we call ‘an anchor in the cloud’ to make your life much easier. We’re more like a cloud vendor there, but because we support on-prem, we see some of those other folks.” Those other folks being IBM/Red Hat’s OpenShift and VMware’s Tanzu, for example. 

The addition of support for Windows containers in vSphere environments also points to the fact that a lot of Anthos customers are classical enterprises that are trying to modernize their infrastructure, yet still rely on a lot of legacy applications that they are now trying to bring to the cloud.

Looking ahead, one thing we’ll likely see is more integrations with a wider range of Google Cloud products into Anthos. And indeed, as Reed noted, inside of Google Cloud, more teams are now building their products on top of Anthos themselves. In turn, that then makes it easier to bring those services to an Anthos-managed environment anywhere. One of the first of these internal services that run on top of Anthos is Apigee. “Your Apigee deployment essentially has Anthos underneath the covers. So Apigee gets all the benefits of a container environment, scalability and all those pieces — and we’ve made it really simple for that whole environment to run kind of as a stack,” he said.

I guess we can expect to hear more about this in the near future — or at Google Cloud Next 2021.

 

#anthos, #apigee, #aws, #ceo, #chrome-os, #cisco, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #enterprise, #google, #google-cloud, #google-cloud-platform, #ibm, #kubernetes, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #red-hat, #sundar-pichai, #vmware

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Esri brings its flagship ArcGIS platform to Kubernetes

Esri, the geographic information system (GIS), mapping and spatial analytics company, is hosting its (virtual) developer summit today. Unsurprisingly, it is making a couple of major announcements at the event that range from a new design system and improved JavaScript APIs to support for running ArcGIS Enterprise in containers on Kubernetes.

The Kubernetes project was a major undertaking for the company, Esri Product Managers Trevor Seaton and Philip Heede told me. Traditionally, like so many similar products, ArcGIS was architected to be installed on physical boxes, virtual machines or cloud-hosted VMs. And while it doesn’t really matter to end-users where the software runs, containerizing the application means that it is far easier for businesses to scale their systems up or down as needed.

Esri ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes deployment

Esri ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes deployment

“We have a lot of customers — especially some of the larger customers — that run very complex questions,” Seaton explained. “And sometimes it’s unpredictable. They might be responding to seasonal events or business events or economic events, and they need to understand not only what’s going on in the world, but also respond to their many users from outside the organization coming in and asking questions of the systems that they put in place using ArcGIS. And that unpredictable demand is one of the key benefits of Kubernetes.”

Deploying Esri ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes

Deploying Esri ArcGIS Enterprise on Kubernetes

The team could have chosen to go the easy route and put a wrapper around its existing tools to containerize them and call it a day, but as Seaton noted, Esri used this opportunity to re-architect its tools and break it down into microservices.

“It’s taken us a while because we took three or four big applications that together make up [ArcGIS] Enterprise,” he said. “And we broke those apart into a much larger set of microservices. That allows us to containerize specific services and add a lot of high availability and resilience to the system without adding a lot of complexity for the administrators — in fact, we’re reducing the complexity as we do that and all of that gets installed in one single deployment script.”

While Kubernetes simplifies a lot of the management experience, a lot of companies that use ArcGIS aren’t yet familiar with it. And as Seaton and Heede noted, the company isn’t forcing anyone onto this platform. It will continue to support Windows and Linux just like before. Heede also stressed that it’s still unusual — especially in this industry — to see a complex, fully integrated system like ArcGIS being delivered in the form of microservices and multiple containers that its customers then run on their own infrastructure.

Image Credits: Esri

In addition to the Kubernetes announcement, Esri also today announced new JavaScript APIs that make it easier for developers to create applications that bring together Esri’s server-side technology and the scalability of doing much of the analysis on the client-side. Back in the day, Esri would support tools like Microsoft’s Silverlight and Adobe/Apache Flex for building rich web-based applications. “Now, we’re really focusing on a single web development technology and the toolset around that,” Esri product manager Julie Powell told me.

A bit later this month, Esri also plans to launch its new design system to make it easier and faster for developers to create clean and consistent user interfaces. This design system will launch April 22, but the company already provided a bit of a teaser today. As Powell noted, the challenge for Esri is that its design system has to help the company’s partners to put their own style and branding on top of the maps and data they get from the ArcGIS ecosystem.

 

#computing, #developer, #enterprise, #esri, #gis, #javascript, #kubernetes, #linux, #microsoft-windows, #software, #tc, #vms

0

Lowkey raises $7 million from a16z to help game streamers capitalize on short-form video

While the growth of game-streaming audiences have continued on desktop platforms, the streaming space has felt surprisingly stagnant at times, particularly due to the missing mobile element and a lack of startup competitors.

Lowkey, a gaming startup that builds software for game streamers, is aiming to build out opportunities in bit-sized clips on mobile. The startup wants to be a hub for both creating and viewing short gaming clips but also sees a big opportunity in helping streamers cut down their existing content for distribution on platforms like Instagram and TikTok where short-form gaming content sees a good deal of engagement.

The startup announced today that they’ve closed a $7 million Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz with participation from a host of angel investors including Figma’s Dylan Field, Loom’s Joe Thomas and Plaid’s Zach Perret & William Hockey.

We last covered Lowkey in early 2020 when the company was looking to build out a games tournament platform for adults. At the time, the company had already pivoted after going through YC as Camelot but which allowed audiences on Twitch and YouTube pay creators to take on challenges. This latest shift brings Lowkey back to the streaming world but more focused on becoming a tool for streamers and a hub for viewers.

Twitch and YouTube Gaming have proven to be pretty uninterested in short-form content, favoring the opportunities of long-form streams that allow creators to press broadcast and upload lengthy streams. Lowkey users can easily upload footage captured from Lowkey’s desktop app or directly import a linked stream. This allows content creators to upload and comment on their own footage or remix and respond to another streamer’s content.

One of the challenges for streamers has been adapting widescreen content for a vertical video form factor, but CEO Jesse Zhang says that it’s not really a problem with most modern games. “Games inherently want to focus you attention on the center of the screen,” Zhang tells TechCrunch. “So, almost all clips extend really cleanly to like a mobile format, which is what we’ve done.”

Lowkey’s desktop app is available on Windows and their new mobile app is now live for iOS.

#andreessen-horowitz, #ceo, #digital-media, #gaming, #hockey, #instagram, #joe-thomas, #mass-media, #microsoft-windows, #twitch, #video-hosting, #world-wide-web, #youtube, #zach-perret

0

Duo goes passwordless

Duo, the authentication service Cisco acquired for $2.35 billion in 2018, today announced its plans to launch a passwordless authentication service that will allow users to log in to their Duo-protected services through security keys or platform biometrics like Apple’s Face ID or Microsoft’s Windows Hello. The infrastructure-agnostic service will go into public preview in the summer.

“Cisco has strived to develop passwordless authentication that meets the needs of a diverse and evolving workforce and allows the broadest set of enterprises to securely progress towards a passwordless future, regardless of their IT stack,” said Gee Rittenhouse, SVP and GM of Cisco’s Security Business Group. “It’s not an overstatement to say that passwordless authentication will have the most meaningful global impact on how users access data by making the easiest path the most secure.”

If you’re using Duo or a similar product today, chances are that you are using both passwords and a second factor to log into your work applications. But users are notoriously bad about their password hygiene — and to the despair of any IT department, they also keep forgetting them.

In the standard two-factor authentication scheme, the second factor is basically an extra moat around your password. Passwordless is essentially another form of two-factor authentication, but it instead of passwords, it relies on cryptographic key pairs, be that with the help of a hardware security key or biometric authentication.

Duo’s passwordless service relies on the Web Authentication standard which ensures that your data is stored locally and not on a centralized server, too.

According to Duo’s own data, we have now reached a point where the hardware is ready for passwordless, with 80 percent of mobile devices now offering support for biometrics.

“Passwordless is a journey requiring incremental changes in users and IT environments alike, not something enterprises can enable overnight,” said Wolfgang Goerlich, Advisory Chief Information Security Officer, Duo Security at Cisco. “Duo can help enterprises transition their environments and workforces securely and minimize user friction while simultaneously increasing trust in every authentication.”

#access-control, #authentication, #cisco, #computer-security, #cryptography, #microsoft-windows, #multi-factor-authentication, #password, #security-token, #svp, #tc, #work-applications

0

A newly-wormable Windows botnet is ballooning in size

Researchers say a botnet targeting Windows devices is rapidly growing in size, thanks to a new infection technique that allows the malware to spread from computer to computer.

The Purple Fox malware was first spotted in 2018 spreading through phishing emails and exploit kits, a way for threat groups to infect machines using existing security flaws.

But researchers Amit Serper and Ophir Harpaz at security firm Guardicore, which discovered and revealed the new infection effort in a new blog post, say the malware now targets internet-facing Windows computers with weak passwords, giving the malware a foothold to spread more rapidly.

The malware does this by trying to guess weak Windows user account passwords by targeting the server message block, or SMB — a component that lets Windows talk with other devices, like printers and file servers. Once the malware gains access to a vulnerable computer, it pulls a malicious payload from a network of close to 2,000 older and compromised Windows web servers and quietly installs a rootkit, keeping the malware persistently anchored to the computer while also making it much harder to be detected or removed.

Once infected, the malware then closes the ports in the firewall it used to infect the computer to begin with, likely to prevent reinfection or other threat groups hijacking the already-hacked computer, the researchers said.

The malware then generates a list of internet addresses and scans the internet for vulnerable devices with weak passwords to infect further, creating a growing network of ensnared devices.

Botnets are formed when hundreds or thousands of hacked devices are enlisted into a network run by criminal operators, which are often then used to launch denial-of-network attacks to pummel organizations with junk traffic with the aim of knocking them offline. But with control of these devices, criminal operators can also use botnets to spread malware and spam, or to deploy file-encrypting ransomware on the infected computers.

But this kind of wormable botnet presents a greater risk as it spreads largely on its own.

Serper, Guardicore’s vice president of security research for North America, said the wormable infection technique is “cheaper” to run than its earlier phishing and exploit kit effort.

“The fact that it’s an opportunistic attack that constantly scans the internet and looks for more vulnerable machines means that the attackers can sort of ‘set it and forget it’,” he said.

It appears to be working. Purple Fox infections have rocketed by 600% since May 2020, according to data from Guardicore’s own network of internet sensors. The actual number of infections is likely to be far higher, amounting to more than 90,000 infections in the past year.

Guardicore published indicators of compromise to help networks identify if they have been infected. The researchers do not know what the botnet will be used for but warned that its growing size presents a risk to organizations.

“We assume that this is laying the groundwork for something in the future,” said Serper.

#botnets, #computing, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #firewall, #malware, #microsoft-windows, #mirai, #north-america, #ransomware, #rootkit, #security, #security-breaches, #web-servers

0

Slapdash raises $3.7M seed to ship a workplace apps command bar

The explosion in productivity software amid a broader remote work boom has been one of the pandemic’s clearest tech impacts. But learning to use a dozen new programs while having to decipher which data is hosted where can sometimes seem to have an adverse effect on worker productivity. It’s all time that users can take for granted, even when carrying out common tasks like navigating to the calendar to view more info to click a link to open the browser to redirect to the native app to open a Zoom call.

Slapdash is aiming to carve a new niche out for itself among workplace software tools, pushing a desire for peak performance to the forefront with a product that shaves seconds off each instance where a user needs to find data hosted in a cloud app or carry out an action. While most of the integration-heavy software suites to emerge during the remote work boom have focused on promoting visibility or re-skinning workflows across the tangled weave of SaaS apps, Slapdash founder Ivan Kanevski hopes that the company’s efforts to engineer a quicker path to information will push tech workers to integrate another tool into their workflow.

The team tells TechCrunch that they’ve has raised $3.7 million in seed funding from investors that include S28 Capital, Quiet Capital. Quarry Ventures and Twenty Two Ventures. Angels participating in the round include co-founders at companies like Patreon, Docker and Zynga.

Kanevski says the team sought to emulate the success of popular apps like Superhuman which have pushed low-latency command line interface navigation while emulating some of the sleek internal tools used at companies like Facebook where he spent nearly six years as a software engineer.

Slapdash’s command line widget can be pulled up anywhere, once installed, with a quick keyboard shortcut. From there, users can search through a laundry list of indexable apps including Slack, Zoom, Jira and about twenty others. Beyond command line access, users can create folders of files and actions inside the full desktop app or create their own keyboard shortcuts to quickly hammer out a task. The app is available on Mac, Windows, Linux and the web.

“We’re not trying to displace the applications that you connect to Slapdash,” he says. “You won’t see us, for example, building document editing, you won’t see us building project management, just because our sort of philosophy is that we’re a neutral platform.”

The company offers a free tier for users indexing up to five apps and creating ten commands and spaces, any more than that and you level up into a $12 per month paid plan. Things look more customized for enterprise-wide pricing. As the team hopes to make the tool essential to startups, Kanevski see the app’s hefty utility for individual users as a clear asset in scaling up.

“If you anticipate rolling this out to larger organizations, you would want the people that are using the software to have a blast with it,” he says. “We have quite a lot of confidence that even at this sort of individual atomic level, we built something pretty joyful and helpful.”

#ceo, #computing, #docker, #enterprise, #jira, #linux, #microsoft-windows, #mobile-app, #patreon, #productivity-software, #quiet-capital, #recent-funding, #s28-capital, #saas, #software, #software-engineer, #startups, #tc, #technology, #zoom, #zynga

0

Version 2 of Google’s Flutter toolkit adds support for desktop and web apps

At an online event, Google today announced Flutter 2, the newest version of its open-source UI toolkit for building portable apps. While Flutter started out with a focus on mobile when it first launched two years ago, it spread its wings in recent years and with version 2, Flutter now supports web and desktop apps out of the box. With that, Flutter users can now use the same codebase to build apps for iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, Linux and the web.

“The big thing that justifies the major version number shift is, of course, the availability of web and desktop support,” Flutter product lead Tim Sneath told me. “And that’s just a fairly profound pivot. It’s rare for products that you suddenly have all these additional endpoints.”

Image Credits: Google

He noted that because of Flutter’s open-source nature, web and desktop support had been “cooking in the open” for a while, so the addition of these endpoints isn’t a surprise. A lot of that work in getting these new platforms ready for the 2.0 release involved getting the performance up to par on these new platforms.

It’s worth noting, though, that Flutter desktop support is still behind an early-release flag in Flutter’s stable release channel and Google says developers should think of it as a “beta snapshot.” Web support, however, has transitioned from beta to stable and has become just another target for building apps with Flutter.

Image Credits: Google

On the web platform, specifically, Sneath noted that the team deliberately started out with a very standard, DOM-centric approach. But while that worked fine, it also meant performance was held back by that, especially for more advanced features. Over the course of the last year or so, the team started working on what it calls Canvas Kit. This WebAssembly-based project takes the same Skia graphics engine that powers Android and Chrome itself and makes it available to web apps.

“What that’s meant is that we can now essentially bypass the core HTML — sort of the document-centric parts of the web platform — and really use the app-centric parts of the web platform without leaving [behind] things like auto-complete of text or passwords and all the things that keep the web feeling very unique,” Sneath said.

Image Credits: Google

On the desktop, Google is announcing that Canonical is going all-in on Flutter and making it the default choice of all its future desktop and mobile apps.

Microsoft, too, is expanding its support for Flutter and working with Google on Windows support for Flutter. Given Microsoft’s interest in Android, that’s maybe no huge surprise, and indeed, Microsoft today is releasing contributions to the Flutter engine to help support foldable Android devices.

In total, Google notes, there are now over 15,000 packages for Flutter and Dart from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Adobe, Huawei, Alibaba, eBay and Square.

As always, there are dozen of other smaller updates to Flutter in this update, too.

Looking ahead, Sneath noted that the Flutter team plans to spend more time on Flutter as a framework for embedded devices and other somewhat non-traditional platforms. He also noted that the team is interested in how Flutter can help power ambient computing experiences.

“As we think about the ambient computing worlds where there are these core premises behind the ambient computing aspects — things like: can it be searched easily? Can people make money off of the apps that they build and do it in a responsible way? We’re building support for those kinds of services. Better analytics, better ads frameworks, connectivity into things like Firebase and Google Cloud, so that people can not just take advantage of Flutter but the broader ecosystem services that Google provides,” Sneath explained.

#android, #chrome-os, #developer, #ebay, #flutter, #google, #linux, #macos, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #software, #tc, #web-apps, #web-development, #web-programming

0

Microsoft debuts its AR/VR meetings platform Mesh

Today, at a special AR/VR focused event held inside its virtual reality community platform Altspace, Microsoft showcased a new product aiming to provide their AR HoloLens platform and VR Windows Mixed Reality platform with a shared platform for meetings.

The app is called Microsoft Mesh and it gives users a cross AR/VR meeting space to interact with other users and 3D content, handling all of technical hard parts of sharing spatial multi-player experiences over the web. Like Microsoft’s other AR/VR apps, the sell seems to be less in the software than it is in enabling developers to tap into one more specialization of Azure, building their own software that builds on the capabilities. The company announced that AltspaceVR will now be Mesh-enabled.

In the company’s presentation, they swung for the fences in showcasing potential use cases, bringing in James Cameron, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil and Pokémon Go developer Niantic.

Microsoft’s HoloLens platform has always been at its most impressive when it comes to viewers in a shared space looking at the same digital content in the same room that’s invisible to everyone else. Inside Mesh, other users are represented as cartoonish avatars, a design break that has plagued countless other AR/VR apps and platforms. Microsoft says the hope is to one day beam a user’s 3D photo-realistic presence into the app but that will assuredly require the commoditization of some complex camera hardware.

The company showcased a concept video of Mesh, which seems to be a few years further ahead in several places than the current software is.

Mesh isn’t offering any capabilities that are terribly unique to the spatial computing world — it’s all pretty standard faire in terms of bells and whistles — the distinguishing factor is the breadth of access, something once the unique distinguishing feature of the AltspaceVR platform back in the day. Mesh can be accessed on the HoloLens 2, many VR headsets, phones, tablets, and PCs, providing a window into the futuristic platform for even desktop users.

The software is available in preview now on HoloLens 2 alongside its AltspaceVR integration.


Early Stage is the premiere ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.

#altspacevr, #augmented-reality, #cirque-du-soleil, #co-founder, #computing, #hololens-2, #james-cameron, #microsoft, #microsoft-hololens, #microsoft-windows, #mixed-reality, #pokemon-go, #virtual-reality, #wearable-devices, #windows-10

0

Microsoft’s Power Automate Desktop is now free for all Windows 10 users

Microsoft today announced that it is making Power Automate Desktop, its enterprise-level tool for creating automated desktop-centric workflows, available to all Windows 10 users for free. Power Automate Desktop is what Microsoft calls its “attended Robotic Process Automation” solution, but you can think of it as a macro recorder on steroids. It comes with 370 prebuilt actions that help you build flows across different applications, but its real power is in letting you build your own scripts to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks.

Power Automate Desktop originally launched last September. It’s based on Microsoft’s acquisition of Softomotive in early 2020, but Microsoft has since extended Softomotive’s technology and integrated it deeper into its own stack.

Users who want to give Power Automate Desktop a try can now download it from Microsoft, but in the coming weeks, it’ll become part of Microsoft’s Insider Builds for Windows 10 and then eventually become a built-in part of Windows 10, all the way down to the standard Windows Home version. Until now, a per-user license for Power Automate Desktop would set you back at least $15 per month.

“We’ve had this mission of wanting to go democratize development for everybody with the Power Platform,” Charles Lamanna, the CVP of Power Platform engineering at Microsoft, told me. “And that means, of course, making products which are accessible to anybody — and that’s what no-code/low-code is all about, whether it’s building applications with Power Apps or automating with Power Automate. But another big part of that is just, how do you also expand the imagination of a typical PC user to make them believe they can be a developer?”

This move, Lamanna believes, reduces the licensing friction and sends a message to Windows users that they can build bots and automate tasks, too. “The way we’ve designed it — and the experience we have, particularly around the recording abilities like a macro recorder — makes it so you don’t have to think about for loops or what is this app I’m clicking on or this text box — you can just record it and run it,” he said.

#automation, #computing, #developer, #macro, #microsoft, #microsoft-ignite-2021, #microsoft-windows, #operating-systems, #softomotive, #tc, #windows-10

0

Microsoft launches Power Fx, a new open source low-code language

Microsoft today announced Power Fx, a new low-code language that takes its cues from Excel formulas. Power Fx will become the standard for writing logic customization across Microsoft’s own low-code Power Platform, but since the company is open-sourcing the language, Microsoft also hopes that others will implement it as well and that it will become the de facto standard for these kinds of use cases.

Since Power Platform itself targets business users more so than professional developers, it feels like a smart move to leverage their existing knowledge of Excel and their familiarity with Excel formulas to get started.

“We have this long history of programming languages and something really interesting happened over the last 15 years, which is programming languages became free, they became open source and they became community-driven,” Charles Lamanna, the CVP of Power Platform engineering at Microsoft, told me. He noted that even internal languages like C#, TypeScript or Google’s Go are good examples for this.

“That’s been an ongoing trend. And what’s interesting is: that’s all for pro devs and coders. If we go back and look at the low-code/no-code space, there actually are programming languages, like the Excel programming language, or in every low-code/no-code platform has its own programming language. But those aren’t open, those aren’t portable, and those are community-driven,” Lamanna explained.

Microsoft says the language was developed by a team led by Vijay Mital, Robin Abraham, Shon Katzenberger and Darryl Rubin. Beyond Excel, the team also took inspiration from tools and languages like Pascal, Mathematica and Miranda, a functional programming language developed in the 1980s.

Microsoft plans to bring Power Fx to all of its low-code platforms, but given the focus on community, it’ll start making appearances in Power Automate, Power Virtual Agents and elsewhere soon.

But the team clearly hopes that others will adopt it as well. Low-code developers will see it pop up in the formula bars of products like Power Apps Studio, but more sophisticated users will also be able to use it to go to Visual Studio Code and build more complex applications with it.

As the team noted, it focused on not just making the language Excel-like but also having it behave like Excel — or like a REPL, for you high-code programmers out there. That means formulas are declarative and instantly recalculate as developers update their code.

Most low-code/no-code tools these days offer an escape hatch to allow users to either extend their apps with more sophisticated code or have their tool export the entire code base. Because at the end of the day, you can only take these tools so far. By default, they are built to support a wide range of scenarios, but since every company has its own way of doing things, they can’t cover every use case.

“We imagine that probably the majority of developers — and I say ‘developers’ as business users to coders that use Power Platform — will ultimately drop into writing these formulas in some form. The idea is that on that first day that you get started with Power Platform, we’re not going to write any formulas, right? […] It’s a macro recorder, it’s templates. Same thing for Power Apps: it’s pure visual, drag and drop, you don’t write a single formula. But what’s great about Power Platform, in week number two, when you’re using this thing, you learn a little bit more sophistication. You start to use a little bit more of the advanced capabilities. And before you know it, you actually have professionals who are Power Platform or low-code developers because they’re able to go down that spectrum of capability.”

#computing, #developer, #enterprise, #fx, #github, #microsoft, #microsoft-excel, #microsoft-ignite-2021, #microsoft-windows, #office-suites, #software, #tc

0

Magical raises $3.3M to modernize calendars

Calendars. They are at the core of how we organize our workdays and meetings, but despite regular attempts to modernize the overall calendar experience, the calendar experience you see today in Outlook or G Suite Google Workspace hasn’t really changed at its core. And for the most part, the area that startups like Calendly or ReclaimAI have focused on in recent years is scheduling.

Magical is a Tel Aviv-based startup that wants to reinvent the calendar experience from the ground up and turn it into more of a team collaboration tool than simply a personal time-management service. The company today announced that it has raised a $3.3 million seed round led by Resolute Ventures, with additional backing from Ibex Investors, Aviv Growth Partners, ORR Partners, Homeward Ventures and Fusion LA, as well as several angel investors in the productivity space.

The idea for the service came from discussions on Supertools, a large workplace-productivity community, which was also founded by Magical founder and CEO Tommy Barav.

Image Credits: Magical

Based on the feedback from the community — and his own consulting work with large Fortune 500 multinationals — Barav realized that time management remains an unsolved business problem. “The time management space is so highly fragmented,” he told me. “There are so many micro tools and frameworks to manage time, but they’re not built inside of your calendar, which is the main workflow.”

Traditional calendars are add-ons to bigger product bundles and find themselves trapped under those, he argues. “The calendar in Outlook is an email sidekick, but it’s actually the center of your day. So there is an unmet need to use the calendar as a time management hub,” he said.

Magical, which is still in private beta, aims to integrate many of the features we’re seeing from current scheduling and calendaring startups, including AI-scheduling and automation tools. But Magical’s ambition is larger than that.

Image Credits: Magical

“We want to redefine how you use a calendar in the first place,” Barav said. “Many of the innovations that we’ve seen are associated with scheduling: how you schedule your time, letting you streamline the way you schedule meetings, how you see your calendar. […] But we’re talking about redefining time management by giving you a better calendar, by bringing these workflows — scheduling, coordinating and utilizing — into your calendar. We’re redefining the use of the calendar in the modern workspace.”

Since Magical is still in its early days, the team is still working out some of the details, but the general idea is to, for example, turn the calendar into the central repository for meeting notes — and Magical will feature tools to collaborate on these notes and share them. Team members will also be able to follow those meeting notes without having to participate in the actual meeting (or get copied on the emails about that meeting).

“We’ll help teams reduce pointless meetings,” Barav noted. To do this, the team is also integrating other service into the calendar experience, including the usual suspects like Zoom and Slack, but also Salesforce and Notion, for example.

“It’s rare that you find an entrepreneur who has so clearly validated its market opportunity,” said Mike Hirshland, a founding partner of Magical investor Resolute Ventures. “Tommy and his team have been talking to thousands of users for three years, they’ve validated the opportunity, and they’ve designed a product from the ground-up that meets the needs of the market. Now it’s ‘go time’ and I’m thrilled to be part of the journey ahead.”

#artificial-intelligence, #calendar, #ceo, #google, #google-workspace, #ical, #louisiana, #microsoft, #microsoft-windows, #outlook-com, #recent-funding, #resolute-ventures, #startups, #tc, #tel-aviv, #time-management

0

This Week in Apps: TikTok viral hit breaks Spotify records, inauguration boosts news app installs, judge rules against Parler

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 218 billion downloads and $143 billion in global consumer spend in 2020.

Consumers last year also spent 3.5 trillion minutes using apps on Android devices alone. And in the U.S., app usage surged ahead of the time spent watching live TV. Currently, the average American watches 3.7 hours of live TV per day, but now spends four hours per day on their mobile devices.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus. In 2020, investors poured $73 billion in capital into mobile companies — a figure that’s up 27% year-over-year.

This week, we’re looking into how President Biden’s inauguration impacted news apps, the latest in the Parler lawsuit, and how TikTok’s app continues to shape culture, among other things.

Top Stories

Judge says Amazon doesn’t have to host Parler on AWS

logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler

Logos for AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Parler. Image Credits: TechCrunch

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle this week ruled that Amazon won’t be required to restore access to web services to Parler. As you may recall, Parler sued Amazon for booting it from AWS’ infrastructure, effectively forcing it offline. Like Apple and Google before it, Amazon had decided that the calls for violence that were being spread on Parler violated its terms of service. It also said that Parler showed an “unwillingness and inability” to remove dangerous posts that called for the rape, torture and assassination of politicians, tech executives and many others, the AP reported.

Amazon’s decision shouldn’t have been a surprise for Parler. Amazon had reported 98 examples of Parler posts that incited violence over the past several weeks before its decision. It told Parler these were clear violations of the terms of service.

Parler’s lawsuit against Amazon, however, went on to claim breach of contract and even made antitrust allegations.

The judge shot down Parler’s claims that Amazon and Twitter were colluding over the decision to kick the app off AWS. Parler’s claims over breach of contract were denied, too, as the contract had never said Amazon had to give Parler 30 days to fix things. (Not to mention the fact that Parler breached the contract on its side, too.) It also said Parler had fallen short in demonstrating the need for an injunction to restore access to Amazon’s web services.

The ruling only blocks Parler from forcing Amazon to again host it as the lawsuit proceeds, but is not the final ruling in the overall case, which is continuing.

TikTok drives another pop song to No. 1 on Billboard charts, breaks Spotify’s record

@livbedumb♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

We already knew TikTok was playing a large role in influencing music charts and listening behavior. For example, Billboard last year noted how TikTok drove hits from Sony artists like Doja Cat (“Say So”) and 24kGoldn (“Mood”), and helped Sony discover new talent. Columbia also signed viral TikTok artists like Lil Nas X, Powfu, StaySolidRocky, Jawsh 685, Arizona Zervas and 24kGoldn. Meanwhile, Nielsen has said that no other app had helped break more songs in 2020 than TikTok.

This month, we’ve witnessed yet another example of this phenomenon. Olivia Rodrigo, the 17-year-old star of Disney+’s “High School Musical: The Musical: the Series” released her latest song, “Drivers License” on January 8. The pop ballad and breakup anthem is believed to be referencing the actress’ relationship with co-star Joshua Bassett, which gave the song even more appeal to fans.

Upon its release the song was heavily streamed by TikTok users, which helped make it an overnight sensation of sorts. According to a report by The WSJ, Billboard counted 76.1 million streams and 38,000 downloads in the U.S. during the week of its release. It also made a historic debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the first smash hit of 2021.

On January 11, “Drivers License” broke Spotify’s record for most streams per day (for a non-holiday song) with 15.17 million global streams. On TikTok, meanwhile, the number of videos featuring the song and the views they received doubled every day, The WSJ said.

Charli D’Amelio’s dance to it on the app has now generated 5 million “Likes” across nearly 33 million views, as of the time of writing.

@charlidamelio♬ drivers license – Olivia Rodrigo

Of course, other TikTok hits have broken out in the past, too — even reaching No. 1 like “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd) and “Mood” (24kGoldn). But the success of “Drivers License” may be in part due to the way it focuses on a subject that’s more relevant to TikTok’s young, teenage user base. It talks about first loves and being dumped for the other girl. And its title and opening refer to a time many adults have forgotten: the momentous day when you get your driver’s license. It’s highly relatable to the TikTok crowd who fully embraced it and made it a hit.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple stops signing iOS 12.5, making iOS 12.5.1 the only versions of iOS available to older devices.
  • A report claims Apple’s iOS 15 update will cut support for devices with an A9 chip, like the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s Plus and the original iPhone SE.
  • New analysis estimates Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes will cause a roughly 7% revenue hit for Facebook in Q2. The revenue hit will continue in following quarters and will be “material.”

Platforms: Google

  • Google adds “trending” icons to the Play Store. New arrow icons appeared in the Top Charts tab, which indicate whether an app’s downloads are trending up or down, in terms of popularity. This could provide an early signal about those that may still be rising in the charts or beginning to fall out of favor, despite their current high position.
  • Google appears to be working on a Restricted Networking mode for Android 12. The mode, discovered by XDA Developers digging in the Android Open Source Project, would disable network access for all third-party apps.

Gaming

  • Goama (or Go Games) introduced a way for developers to integrate social games into their apps, which was showcased at CES. The company focuses on Asia and Latin America and has more than 15 partners, including GCash and Rappi, for digital payments and communications.
  • Fortnite maker Epic Games is getting into movies. The animated feature film Gilgamesh will use Epic’s Unreal Engine technology to tell the story of the king-turned-deity. The movie is not an in-house project, but rather is financed through Epic’s $100M MegaGrants fund.

Augmented Reality

  • Patents around Apple’s AR and VR efforts describe how a system could be identified in a way that’s similar to FaceID, then either permitted or denied the ability to change their appearance in the game.
  • Pinterest launches AR try-on for eyeshadow in its mobile app using Lens technology and ModiFace data. The app already offered AR try-on for lipsticks.

Entertainment

  • The CW app became the No. 1 app on the App Store this week, topping TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, thanks to CW’s season premieres of Batwoman, All American, Riverdale and Nancy Drew.
  • Users of podcasting app Anchor, owned by Spotify, say the app isn’t bringing them any sponsorship opportunities, as promised, beyond those from Spotify and Anchor itself.
  • YouTube launches hashtag landing pages on the web and in its mobile app. The pages are accessible when you click hashtags on YouTube, not via search, and weirdly rank the “best” videos through some inscrutable algorithm.
  • Apple’s Podcasts app adds a new editorial feature, Apple Podcasts Spotlight, meant to increase podcast listening by showcasing the best podcasts as selected by Apple editors.

E-commerce

  • WeChat facilitated 1.6 trillion yuan (close to $250 billion) in annual transactions through its “mini programs” in 2020. The figure is more than double that of 2019.

Fintech

  • Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, launched an e-wallet, Douyin Pay. The wallet will supplement the existing payment options, Alipay and WeChat Pay, and will help to support the Douyin app’s growing e-commerce business.
  • Neobank Monzo founder Tom Blomfield left the startup, saying he struggled during the pandemic. “I think [for] a lot of people in the world…going through a pandemic, going through lockdown and the isolation involved in that has an impact on people’s mental health,” he told TechCrunch.
  • New estimates indicate about 50% of the iPhone user base (or 507 million users) now use Apple Pay. 
  • Samsung’s newest phones drop support for MST, which emulates a mag stripe at terminals that don’t support NFC.

Social

  • Indian messaging app, StickerChat, owned by Hike, is shutting down. Founder Kavin Bharti Mittal said India will never have a homegrown messenger unless it bars Western companies from its market. Hike pivoted this month to virtual social apps, Vibe and Rush, which it believes have more potential.
  • Instagram head Adam Mosseri, in a Verge podcast, said he’s not happy with Reels so far, and how he feels most people probably don’t understand the difference between Instagram video and IGTV. He says the social network needs to simplify and consolidate ideas.
  • Facebook and Instagram improve their accessibility features. The apps’ AI-generated image captions now offer far more details about who or what is in the photos, thanks to improvements in image recognition systems.
  • TikTok launches a Q&A feature that lets creators respond to fan questions using text or videos. The feature, rolled out to select creators with more than 10,000 followers, makes it easier to see all the questions in one place.

Health & Fitness

  • Health and fitness app spending jumped 70% last year in Europe to record $544 million, a Sensor Tower report says. The year-over-year increase is far larger than 2019, when growth was just 37.2%. COVID-19 played a large role in this shift as people turned to fitness apps instead of gyms to stay in shape.

Government & Policy

  • Biden’s inauguration boosted installs of U.S. news apps up to 170%, Sensor Tower reported. CNN was the biggest mover, climbing 530 positions to reach No. 41 on the App Store, and up 170% in terms of downloads. News Break was the second highest, climbing 13 positions to No. 65. Right-wing outlet Newsmax climbed 43 spots to reach No. 108. In 2020, the top news apps were: News Break (23.7 million installs); SmartNews (9 million); CNN (5 million); and Fox News (4 million). This month, however, News Break saw 1.2 million installs, followed by Newsmax with about 863,000 installs, the report said.
  • Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) sent a draft decision to fellow EU Data Protection Authorities over the WhatsApp-Facebook data sharing policy. This means a decision on the matter is coming closer to a resolution in terms of what standards of transparency is required by WhatsApp.
  • German app developer Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents filed a complaint with the EU, U.S. DOJ and other antitrust watchdogs around the world over Apple and Google’s rejection of his COVID-related mobile game. Both stores had policies to only approve official COVID-19 apps from health authorities. Mueller renamed the game Viral Days and removed references to the novel coronavirus to get the app approved. However, he still feels the stores’ rules are holding back innovation.

Productivity

  • Basecamp’s Hey, which famously fought back against Apple’s App Store rules over IAP last year, has launched a business-focused platform, Hey for Work, expected to be public in Q1. The app has more App Store ratings than rival Superhuman, a report found. Currently, Hey has a 4.7-star rating across 3.3K reviews; Superhuman has 3.9 rating across only 274 reviews.

Trends

  • Baby boomers are increasingly using apps. Baby boomers/Gen Xers in the U.S. spent 30% more time year-over-year in their most used apps, App Annie reports. That’s a larger increase than either Millennials or Gen Z, at 18% and 16%, respectively.

Funding and M&A

  • Curtsy, a clothing resale app for Gen Z women, raised an $11 million Series A led by Index Ventures. The app tackles some of the problems with online resale by sending shipping supplies and labels to sellers, and by making the marketplace accessible to new and casual sellers.
  • Storytelling platform Wattpad acquired by South Korea’s Naver for $600 million. The reading apps whose stories have turned into book and Netflix hits will be incorporated into Naver’s publishing platform Webtoon.
  • On-demand delivery app Glovo partnered with Swiss-based real estate firm, Stoneweg, which is investing €100 million in building and refurbishing real estate in key markets to build out Glovo’s network of “dark stores.”
  • Pocket Casts app is up for sale. The podcast app was acquired nearly three years ago by a public radio consortium of top podcast producers (NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago and This American Life). The owners have now agreed to sell the app, which posted a net loss in 2020. (NPR’s share of the loss was over $800,000.)
  • Travel app Maps.me raised $50 million in a round led by Alameda Research. The funding will go toward the launch of a multi-currency wallet. Cryptocurrency lender Genesis Capital and institutional cryptocurrency firm CMS Holdings also participated in the round, Coindesk reported.
  • Bangalore-based hyperlocal delivery app Dunzo raised $40 million in a round that included investment from Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada and Alteria.
  • London-based food delivery app Deliveroo raised $180 million in new funding from existing investors, led by Durable Capital Partners and Fidelity Management, valuing the business at more than $7 billion.
  • Dating Group acquired Swiss startup Once, a dating app that sends one match per day, for $18 million.

Downloads

Bodyguard

Image Credits: Bodyguard

A French content moderation app called Bodyguard, detailed here by TechCrunch, has brought its service to the English-speaking market. The app allows you to choose the level of content moderation you want to see on top social networks, like Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Twitch. You can choose to hide toxic content across a range of categories, like insults, body shaming, moral harassment, sexual harassment, racism and homophobia and indicate whether the content is a low or high priority to block.

Beeper

Image Credits: Beeper

Pebble’s founder and current YC Partner Eric Migicovsky has launched a new app, Beeper, that aims to centralize in one interface 15 different chat apps, including iMessage. The app relies on an open-source federated, encrypted messaging protocol called Matrix that uses “bridges” to connect to the various networks to move the messages. However, iMessage support is more wonky, as the company actually ships you an old iPhone to make the connection to the network. But this system allows you to access Beeper on non-Apple devices, the company says. The app is slowly onboarding new users due to initial demand. The app works across MacOS, Windows, Linux‍, iOS and Android and charges $10/mo for the service.

 

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Three different space launch companies – three very different approaches to solving for cost and efficiency

Launch startup Astra had a monumental week, achieving their first spaceflight with a rocket test on Tuesday. Astra CEO Chris Kemp joined Relativity CEO Tim Ellis, and VOX Space President Mandy Vaughn at our TC Sessions: Space event on Wednesday, and with Relativity’s huge $500 million round earlier this year, and Virgin Orbit’s milestone test flight in May, it was a big year for all involved.

A significant portion of our discussion focused on the very different approaches that each of these launch companies is taking to solving what boils down to the same problem – improving cost and availability of launch. Kemp first described Astra’s approach, which boils down to rigorous and continuous process and cost optimization.

“Where we focus our software effort is in understanding where to make engineering optimizations,” Kemp said. “So by having an Astra operating system that is making it visible to all of our engineers, where your costs are, because you have a long lead time on this part, because there’s a lot of labor to assemble this part. […] We’re not throwing any specific technology solution at a problem, we’re trying to basically triage the trade-offs that you’re making between the performance of the rocket – you can always use a higher-cost material, and you can potentially also use a higher cost manufacturing process, like 3D printing, but it isn’t always the right approach.”

Kemp added that Astra is essentially technology-agnostic when it comes to their production stack, and flexible in terms of how to configure that based on available resources and end goal parameters.

“You want to optimize the overall economics of the business without regard to what technology you’re going to use,” he said. “So we pick the right technology to optimize the business based on the capital we have, and the production rate and the launch rate that we’re trying to target.”

Ellis, meanwhile, talked about Relativity’s use of 3D printing, and how it differs significantly from its use in the production stack of other existing rocket manufacturers.

“What we’re doing at Relativity is completely different than then what almost everyone else is doing with using 3d printing for bits and pieces of a rocket,” he said.” From Apollo and launching rockets to the Moon, how we fundamentally build and develop, and the tool sets we use to make rockets and aerospace products is more or less the same as what it was 60 years ago – you walk into a factory, and it’s full of giant, expensive, fixed tooling, very complicated supply chains building products one at a time by hand with hundreds of thousands, to even millions of parts, depending on whether it’s a rocket or commercial aircraft.”

Image Credits: Virgin Orbit, Astra, Relativity Space

By contrast, Ellis pointed out that it’s creating rockets with less than 1,000 total components by viewing 3D printing from a top-down angle, and using it for the vast majority of the production process, rather than for select components.

“Then we’re able to actually build each rocket and from raw material and fly it in 60 days, once our factories operational, and then 60 days later, we’ll do a better version and 60 days later, a better version than that,” he said. “So the compounding rate of progress that’s possible with an all-in 3d printing approach, I believe, is equivalent to going from on-premise servers to cloud, or from gas internal combustion engines to electric – it’s really actually an entirely different tech stack and value chain, it’s not just the rocket itself.”

Vaughn pointed out that while all the companies have different approaches, they all seek to change the accessibility and cost of getting payloads to orbit. She then pointed out that Virgin Orbit has identified launch location flexibility as one of the key levers to speed that change in the right direction.

“It’s not just about getting mass to orbit. It’s about how do we change what is that cost point to do, and how do we change the accessibility to do so,” she said. “Also, really unique from our perspective is, what is that just kind of inherent mobility to do – so how can we actually just fly the launch pad around, and really change the CONOPS [concept of operations] of what it takes to establish an infrastructure and leverage that infrastructure to have access to space.”

Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne is carried by a modified 747 passenger airplane, which takes off from and lands at a traditional runway. That not only means the rocket itself requires less fuel, and therefore less mass, to deliver its cargo to orbit, but also introduces a lot of launch site flexibility.

“By changing the discussion in terms of what is a launch, and what is the end game, it’s not just about mass to orbit, it’s about all of these other elements of how can we react quickly, how can we design and produce something quickly, as well as deploy that capability, maybe in a unique way from an unexpected location, and then get the on-space effects delivered uniquely and quickly,” Vaughn said.

All three panelists agreed that the market will likely support many providers when it comes to small launch vehicles, and their existing sold inventory queues reflects that. We also heard later in the day from Amazon SVP Dave Limp, who pointed out that they alone will require multiple launch providers contracted for multiple missions to get Amazon’s Project Kuiper constellation in place on orbit.

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