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Monthly Archives: August 2021

6 tips for establishing your startup’s global supply chain

August 31, 2021 No Comments

Startups are hard work, but the complexities of global supply chains can make running hardware companies especially difficult. Instead of existing within a codebase behind a screen, the key components of your hardware product can be scattered around the world, subject to the volatility of the global economy.

I’ve spent most of my career establishing global supply chains, setting up manufacturing lines for 3D printers, electric bicycles and home fitness equipment on the ground in Mexico, Hungary, Taiwan and China. I’ve learned the hard way that Murphy’s law is a constant companion in the hardware business.

But after more than a decade of work on three different continents, there are a few lessons I’ve learned that will help you avoid unnecessary mistakes.

Expect cost fluctuations, especially in currency and shipping

Shipping physical products is quite different from “shipping” code — you have to pay a considerable amount of money to transport products around the world. Of course, shipping costs become a line item like any other as they get baked into the overall business plan. The issue is that those costs can change monthly — sometimes drastically.

At this time last year, a shipping container from China cost $ 3,300. Today, it’s almost $ 18,000 — a more than fivefold increase in 12 months. It’s safe to assume that most 2020 business plans did not account for such a cost increase for a key line item.

Shipping a buggy hardware product can be exponentially costlier than shipping buggy software. Recalls, angry customers, return shipping and other issues can become existential problems.

Similar issues also arise with currency exchange rates. Contract manufacturers often allow you to maintain cost agreements for any fluctuations below 5%, but the dollar has dropped much more than 5% against the yuan compared to a year ago, and hardware companies have been forced to renegotiate their manufacturing contracts.

As exchange rates become less favorable and shipping costs increase, you have two options: Operate with lower margins, or pass along the cost to the end customer. Neither choice is ideal, but both are better than going bankrupt.

The takeaway is that when you set up your business, you need to prepare for these possibilities. That means operating with enough margin to handle increased costs, or with the confidence that your end customer will be able to handle a higher price.

Overorder critical parts

Over the past year, many businesses have lost billions of dollars in market value because they didn’t order enough semiconductors. As the owner of a hardware company, you will encounter similar risks.

The supply for certain components, like computer chips, can be limited, and shortages can arise quickly if demand increases or supply chains get disrupted. It’s your job to analyze potential choke points in your supply chain and create redundancies around them.


Startups – TechCrunch


Zoom announces first startups receiving funding from $100M investment fund

August 31, 2021 No Comments

For more than a year now, Zoom has been on a mission to transform from an application into a platform. To that end it made three announcements last year: Zoom Apps development tools, the Zoom Apps marketplace and a $ 100 million development fund to invest in some of the more promising startups building tools on top of their platform. Today, at the closing bell, the company announced it has made its first round of investments.

Ross Mayfield, product lead for Zoom Apps and integrations, spoke to TechCrunch about the round of investments. “We’re in the process of creating this ecosystem. We felt it important, particularly to focus on the seed stage and A stage of partnering with entrepreneurs to create great things on this platform. And I think what you see in the first batch of more than a dozen investments is representative of something that’s going to be a significant ongoing undertaking,” he explained.

He said while they aren’t announcing exact investment amounts, they are writing checks for between $ 250,000 and $ 2.5 million. They are teaming with other investment partners, rather than leading the rounds, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working with these startups using internal resources for advice and executive backing, beyond the money.

“Every one of these investments has an executive or senior sponsor within the company. So there’s another person inside that knows the lay of the land, can help them advance and spend more personal time with them,” Mayfield said.

The company is also running several Zoom chat channels for the startups receiving investments to learn from one another and the Zoom Apps team. “We have a shared chat channel between the startup and my team. We have a channel called Announcements and a channel called Help, and another one that the startups created called Community,” he said.

Every week they use these channels to hold a developer office hour, a business office hour (which Mayfield runs) and a community hour, where the startups can gather and talk amongst themselves about whatever they want.

Among the specific categories receiving funding are collaboration and productivity, community and charity, DE&I and PeopleOps, and gaming and entertainment. In the collaboration and productivity category, Warmly is a sales tool that provides background and information about each person participating in the meeting ahead of time, while allowing the meeting organizer to create customized Zoom backgrounds for each event.

Another is Fathom, which alleviates the need to take notes during a meeting, but it’s more than recording and transcription. “It gives you this really simple interface where you can just tag moments. And then, as a result you have this transcript of the video recording, and you can click on those tagged moments as highlights, and then share a clip of the meeting highlights to Salesforce, Slack and other tools,” Mayfield said.

Pledge enables individuals or organizations to request and collect donations inside a Zoom meeting instantly, and Canvas is a hiring and interview tool that helps companies build diverse teams with data that helps them set and meet DEI goals.

These and the other companies represent the first tranche of investments from this fund, and Mayfield says the company intends to continue looking for startups using the Zoom platform to build their startup or integrate with Zoom.

He says that every company starts as a feature, then becomes a product and then aspires to be a line of products. The trick is getting there.  The goal of the investment program and the entire set of Zoom Apps tools is about helping these companies take the first step.

“The art of being an entrepreneur is working with that risk in the absence of resources and pushing at the frontier of what you know.” Zoom is trying to be a role model, a mentor and an investor on that journey.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Telegram tops 1 billion downloads

August 31, 2021 No Comments

Popular instant messaging app Telegram has joined the elite club of apps that have been downloaded over 1 billion times globally, according to Sensor Tower.

The Dubai-headquartered app, which was launched in late 2013, surpassed the milestone on Friday, the mobile insight firm told TechCrunch. As is the case with the app’s chief rival, WhatsApp, India is the largest market for Telegram. The world’s second-largest internet market represents approximately 22% of its lifetime installs, Sensor Tower said.

“[India is] followed by Russia and Indonesia, which represent about 10% and 8% of [all installs], respectively. The app’s installs accelerated in 2021, reaching about 214.7 million installs in the first half of 2021, up 61% year-over-year from 133 million in H1 2020,” it added.

It’s worth noting that the number of installs doesn’t equate to the app’s active userbase. Telegram had about 500 million monthly active users as of early this year, for instance. But the surge in downloads, which coincides with WhatsApp’s poor handling of relaying its privacy policies to its massive userbase, nonetheless suggests that Telegram has enjoyed some additional attention in recent quarters.

Telegram, which earlier this year raised over $ 1 billion, is the fifteenth app worldwide to have been downloaded 1 billion times or more, Sensor Tower told TechCrunch. Other apps on the list include WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify and Netflix, according to Sensor Tower. (Mobile research firms don’t track the installs of most Google apps that come pre-installed on Android devices.)

Telegram didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.


Social – TechCrunch


Boox tablets are welcome options in the growing oversize e-reader niche

August 30, 2021 No Comments

When it comes to e-paper devices, the Kindle is of course the first brand people think of, though I’ve done my best to spread the Kobo and reMarkable gospel as well. Chinese e-reader maker Boox is a relatively new entrant to the space, and its devices are experimental but useful options in the niche market of monochrome tablets. In fact, they make my new favorite small device.

A brand from parent company Onyx, Boox has a wide array of devices, some might say too wide, ranging from pocketable to medium-sized e-readers to A4-sized tablets. Its branding is not particularly memorable and slightly updated versions come out quite regularly — one device I hoped to test was actually being replaced by the time I got around to writing this article.

The unifying aspect is the OS, a modified version of Android 10 with a few special-made apps for reading and productivity. Made with Chinese consumers in mind, the services probably aren’t ones you will have heard of.

I tested several devices from Boox, the simplest being the Poke 3 e-reader, then the larger and more complex Note2, followed by the svelte Note Air and enormous Max Lumi. Most recently I have been looking at the Nova3 Color, which uses E Ink’s latest Kaleido Plus color screen.

The truth is if you didn’t turn them on you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that these devices were all from the same company. They have quite different hardware styles, though of course there’s only so much room for expression in a black tablet with a screen in shades of grey.

Little and big

A Boox Poke 3 e-reader in a hand.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

Let’s begin with the simplest and most familiar format, the 6-inch e-reader. In this category we have the Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo Clara HD. The former is probably the best one Amazon makes, but I prefer the latter, even though its build quality is, frankly, poor.

Boox in this space has (among others) the Poke 3, not exactly the catchiest name, but it makes up for that with its form factor: pretty much the platonic ideal for a small reader like this. I liked it so much I broke it out into a separate review, but here are the basics.

The 6-inch, 300-PPI screen is of equal quality to the Kindle and Kobo, and like the Clara HD has a temperature-adjustable frontlight. The front of the device is completely flush, just the way I like it, and has just enough bezel to grip without it becoming too much or too little. The seamless design makes it pocketable and resistant to crumbs and spills (though it makes no water resistance claims). There’s a power button up top (thank you) and a single USB-C port at the bottom.

Regarding the hardware, I find it difficult to come up with any criticism at all. It could, I suppose, be lighter, but its dimensions could not be smaller than they are without adversely affecting the ergonomics; a millimeter could conceivably be shaved off the thickness but it would be barely noticeable.

The OS is a highly customized version of Android, with all the pros and cons that comes with. I have always enjoyed the simplicity of Kobo’s interface, though they seem bent on complicating it. Boox’s OS is powerful but busy, uneasy in its decisions of what options to make available and prominent to the user.

Screen of a Boox Poke 3 e-reader

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The reader app, NeoReader, supports tons of file formats and has a huge set of controls for changing your view, highlighting and notating books and PDFs, and so on. This is more for the larger devices than the small ones, which really only need font adjustment and other basic stuff.

If all you want to do is read e-books you already have sitting on your computer, it’s as easy as dragging them into the “Books” folder on the device’s storage. That tab is what you’ll see when you turn on the device, and it’s always easy to get to. There’s a built-in store that takes up a whole tab, though it isn’t available in the U.S. — then a file manager tab for rooting around in directories — and a tab each for your apps and settings.

The apps are another custom situation: This being a Chinese device, it comes without the usual Google-authenticated App Store, whatever it’s called these days. Instead, it has its own store with dozens of the most-used reading apps, from Pocket and GoodReader to the Kobo and Kindle apps. But these are essentially side-loaded: for instance, the Kindle app is a few months old. That’s far from a disaster, but you do need to commit to a certain amount of trust in Boox and its proxy app store in order to use the device as-is.

Of course, you can also enable Google Play services in the settings, which adds the official store into the mix. But for most people this is already far too much work. We are both spoiled and deprived in our e-reader selection in that they are generally simple and extremely straightforward to use. Someone who is not familiar with Android, using this device and a Kobo or Kindle, would probably opt for one of the latter.

Yet the possibilities are many for those who wish to take the plunge. For my part, I like the form factor of the Poke 3 so well that I will brave any OS to use it. Besides, you spend 99% of your time on these things in a book, so as long as that part works, the rest is just icing on the cake.

View of a tablet interface with handwriting on it.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

At the 6-inch scale, this all seems like way too much. But on Boox’s larger devices, the flexibility starts to make more sense. The idea with the Note 2 (now 3), Note Air and Max Lumi is to provide almost all the capabilities of an Android tablet, but with the benefits of an e-paper screen. Admittedly that makes playing racing games something of a non-starter, but it could be very attractive to the types of people for whom their reMarkable is used more than their iPad.

If you read a lot of documents, doing so on a bright tablet screen — or a dim one, for that matter — sucks. An e-paper screen is better for the task, but the best device for that, the reMarkable, is also very deliberately limited in what it can accomplish, since the whole philosophy of the company revolves around focus. So there are definitely people who want the capabilities of an Android device with the readability of an e-paper one. Or at any rate Boox thinks so.

The Note 2 and Max Lumi seem related: They’re unremarkable black tablets of impressive dimensions and, in my limited explorations of their hardware, what seemed to me excellent build quality. The Note Air, it must be said, is the opposite of unremarkable — in fact, when I saw it, I thought it was a clone of the reMarkable 2!

Side view of a tablet showing its thin profile and metal finish.

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

This first impression turned out to be less than generous on my part, as while the two share some significant design elements, they are in fact quite different and Boox’s facility in creating other devices has led me to give them the benefit of the doubt here. The blue and orange motif isn’t the greatest, but it does help set it apart, and all the devices (especially the Air) are thin and well designed.

All the tablets feature frontlights, and I’m happy to say that my skepticism that it could be done with such big screens was needless. It works well and like the Poke 3 the light is adjustable in both brightness and temperature (though it’s a bit fiddly).

Color e-paper still isn’t quite there

The Boox Nova3 color e-ink tablet

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey

The Nova3 Color has a 7.8-inch screen with the latest color e-paper tech from E Ink. I’ve always been excited for the possibilities of this side of the technology, but color e-paper screens have always suffered from poor contrast, low refresh speeds, ghosting and other shortcomings. While this latest iteration does go some way toward amending those (and a software update helped further), it is still unfortunately too much of a compromise.

The hardware is similar to the other Boox devices, solid and unassuming. The difference is all in the screen, which shows in color even when the device is off. Color e-paper works by combining the microscopic black and white beads that form images with a layer of color filters that can be changed. This one, like the others, has a frontlight and it helps a lot with making those colors pop, since without it they’re all rather muted.

There is still the issue of ghosting, though if you’re reading, say, a comic, you can easily set it to refresh every page (it takes only a fraction of a second) and the problem is gone. It’s less easy to do this with more dynamic content like a webpage, though of course navigating the web on an e-reader is already something of a novelty.

The color e-paper display still lacks saturation, if not contrast. Image Credits: Devin Coldewey

More troubling to me is the decrease in contrast and effective decrease in resolution that the color layer brings. When color content is shown, there’s a distinct screen door effect to it, not quite like ordinary LCD aliasing but still visible. And when you have greyscale content you sometimes see moire and other interference patterns in mid-tones.

Books look all right but not nearly as clear as an ordinary monochrome E Ink display; the screen door effect is always present and reduces contrast. It’s still very readable, but when cheaper devices do the job better, it’s hard to justify.

Text is less clear and high contrast on the color screen than on the monochrome one. Image Credits: Devin Coldewey

I appreciate Boox making the latest screen from E Ink available, and it may be useful to some who want a little more tablet DNA in their e-reader (at this point the two categories are not very distinct). But for most people the color does not add enough, and subtracts too much.

Does it all, or stretched too thin?

The OS is the same on all of these as far as I can tell, but on the these devices the focus shifts to interactivity rather than simply reading. Boox makes a Wacom-like pen that can be used to write on the surface of these larger tablets, and it serves its purpose fine, though with nowhere near the responsiveness or accuracy of reMarkable’s.

That said, the final result when sketching or writing was a pleasing one, though the OS takes a moment to catch up and anti-alias the marks. I thought the brush in particular had nice gradations.

One thing the Boox tablets have on others like them (that is to say, the reMarkable, the defunct Sony Digital Paper Tablet and a handful of other niche devices) is in the PDF handling. The Boox devices let you navigate and mark up PDFs with ease, and the original files are simply saved over with your doodles and notes added. Though marking up a document is easy on the reMarkable, its slightly clumsy app makes sharing and sorting them a bit of a chore. I prefer the simple approach: modify the original file (there’s always a copy somewhere) and email it directly from the device. It’s that simple!

Besides the reader and notebook, there are a handful of included apps that any tablet user might find useful. There’s a browser that’s about as functional as you’d expect — it’s Chromium-based and renders well but ghosts terribly; a voice recorder, a music player, a calendar… and of course you could download plenty more from the built-in or Google app stores. If you wanted to, you could make these quite well-rounded devices.

I’m not entirely sure just how large the market is for this kind of e-paper tablet. But I feel these devices offer something interesting and unique, even if they’re also… well, it’s hard to get around the fact that you can get an iPad for half the price of the larger Boox tablets, and then do most of the same stuff and more.

These e-paper devices have a certain draw, though, and if you plan to read and mark up long documents, it’s way better to do so on one of these than on an iPad, for a number of reasons. With Boox’s lineup in the mix there are more options than ever, and that’s definitely a good thing.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


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

August 29, 2021 No Comments

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.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


How Amazon EC2 grew from a notion into a foundational element of cloud computing

August 29, 2021 No Comments

Fifteen years ago this week on August 25, 2006, AWS turned on the very first beta instance of EC2, its cloud-based virtual computers. Today cloud computing, and more specifically infrastructure as a service, is a staple of how businesses use computing, but at that moment it wasn’t a well known or widely understood concept.

The EC in EC2 stands for Elastic Compute, and that name was chosen deliberately. The idea was to provide as much compute power as you needed to do a job, then shut it down when you no longer needed it — making it flexible like an elastic band. The launch of EC2 in beta was preceded by the beta release of S3 storage six months earlier, and both services marked the starting point in AWS’ cloud infrastructure journey.

You really can’t overstate what Amazon was able to accomplish with these moves. It was able to anticipate an entirely different way of computing and create a market and a substantial side business in the process. It took vision to recognize what was coming and the courage to forge ahead and invest the resources necessary to make it happen, something that every business could learn from.

The AWS origin story is complex, but it was about bringing the IT power of the Amazon business to others. Amazon at the time was not the business it is today, but it was still rather substantial and still had to deal with massive fluctuations in traffic such as Black Friday when its website would be flooded with traffic for a short but sustained period of time. While the goal of an e-commerce site, and indeed every business, is attracting as many customers as possible, keeping the site up under such stress takes some doing and Amazon was learning how to do that well.

Those lessons and a desire to bring the company’s internal development processes under control would eventually lead to what we know today as Amazon Web Services, and that side business would help fuel a whole generation of startups. We spoke to Dave Brown, who is VP of EC2 today, and who helped build the first versions of the tech, to find out how this technological shift went down.

Sometimes you get a great notion

The genesis of the idea behind AWS started in the 2000 timeframe when the company began looking at creating a set of services to simplify how they produced software internally. Eventually, they developed a set of foundational services — compute, storage and database — that every developer could tap into.

But the idea of selling that set of services really began to take shape at an executive offsite at Jeff Bezos’ house in 2003. A 2016 TechCrunch article on the origins AWS described how that started to come together:

As the team worked, Jassy recalled, they realized they had also become quite good at running infrastructure services like compute, storage and database (due to those previously articulated internal requirements). What’s more, they had become highly skilled at running reliable, scalable, cost-effective data centers out of need. As a low-margin business like Amazon, they had to be as lean and efficient as possible.

They realized that those skills and abilities could translate into a side business that would eventually become AWS. It would take a while to put these initial ideas into action, but by December 2004, they had opened an engineering office in South Africa to begin building what would become EC2. As Brown explains it, the company was looking to expand outside of Seattle at the time, and Chris Pinkham, who was director in those days, hailed from South Africa and wanted to return home.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Popcorn’s new app brings short-form video to the workplace

August 28, 2021 No Comments

A new startup called Popcorn wants to make work communication more fun and personal by offering a way for users to record short video messages, or “pops,” that can be used for any number of purposes in place of longer emails, texts, Slack messages or Zoom calls. While there are plenty of other places to record short-form video these days, most of these exist in the social media space, which isn’t appropriate for a work environment. Nor does it make sense to send a video you’ve recorded on your phone as an email attachment, when you really just want to check in with a colleague or say hello.

Popcorn, on the other hand, lets you create the short video and then send a URL to that video anywhere you would want to add a personal touch to your message.

For example, you could use Popcorn in a business networking scenario, where you’re trying to connect with someone in your industry for the first time — aka “cold outreach.” Instead of just blasting them a message on LinkedIn, you could also paste in the Popcorn URL to introduce yourself in a more natural, friendly fashion. You also could use Popcorn with your team at work for things like daily check-ins, sharing progress on an ongoing project or to greet new hires, among other things.

Image Credits: Popcorn

Videos themselves can be up to 60 seconds in length — a time limit designed to keep Popcorn users from rambling. Users also can opt to record audio only if they don’t want to appear on video. And you can increase the playback speed if you’re in a hurry. Users who want to receive “pops” could also advertise their “popcode” (e.g. try mine at U8696).

The idea to bring short-form video to the workplace comes from Popcorn co-founder and CEO Justin Spraggins, whose background is in building consumer apps. One of his first apps to gain traction back in 2014 was a Tinder-meets-Instagram experience called Looksee that allowed users to connect around shared photos. A couple years later, he co-founded a social calling app called Unmute, a Clubhouse precursor of sorts. He then went on to co-found 9 Count, a consumer app development shop which launched more social apps like BFF (previously Wink) and Juju.

9 Count’s lead engineer, Ben Hochberg, is now also a co-founder on Popcorn (or rather, Snack Break, Inc. as the legal entity is called). They began their work on Popcorn in 2020, just after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the rapid shift to remote work in the days that followed could now help Popcorn gain traction among distributed teams. Today’s remote workers may never again return to in-person meetings at the office, but they’re also growing tired of long days stuck in Zoom meetings.

With Popcorn, the goal is to make work communication fun, personal and bite-sized, Spraggins says. “[We want to] bring all the stuff we’re really passionate about in consumer social into work, which I think is really important for us now,” he explains.

“You work with these people, but how do you — without scheduling a Zoom — how do you bring the ‘human’ to it?,” Spraggins says. “I’m really excited about making work products feel more social, more like Snapchat than utility tools.”

There is a lot Popcorn would still need to figure out to truly make a business-oriented social app work, including adding enhanced security, limiting spam, offering some sort of reporting flow for bad actors, and more. It will also eventually need to land on a successful revenue model.

Currently, Popcorn is a free download on iPhone, iPad and Mac, and offers a Slack integration so you can send video messages to co-workers directly in the communication software you already use to catch up and stay in touch. The app today is fairly simple, but the company plans to enhance its short videos over time using AR frames that let users showcase their personalities.

The startup raised a $ 400,000 pre-seed round from General Catalyst (Niko Bonatsos) and Dream Machine (Alexia Bonatsos, previously editor-in-chief at TechCrunch.) Spraggins says the company will be looking to raise a seed round in the fall to help with hires, including in the AR space.

Mobile – TechCrunch


Linux 5.14 set to boost future enterprise application security

August 28, 2021 No Comments

Linux is set for a big release this Sunday August 29, setting the stage for enterprise and cloud applications for months to come. The 5.14 kernel update will include security and performance improvements.

A particular area of interest for both enterprise and cloud users is always security and to that end, Linux 5.14 will help with several new capabilities. Mike McGrath, vice president, Linux Engineering at Red Hat told TechCrunch that the kernel update includes a feature known as core scheduling, which is intended to help mitigate processor-level vulnerabilities like Spectre and Meltdown, which first surfaced in 2018. One of the ways that Linux users have had to mitigate those vulnerabilities is by disabling hyper-threading on CPUs and therefore taking a performance hit.

“More specifically, the feature helps to split trusted and untrusted tasks so that they don’t share a core, limiting the overall threat surface while keeping cloud-scale performance relatively unchanged,” McGrath explained.

Another area of security innovation in Linux 5.14 is a feature that has been in development for over a year and a half that will help to protect system memory in a better way than before. Attacks against Linux and other operating systems often target memory as a primary attack surface to exploit. With the new kernel, there is a capability known as memfd_secret () that will enable an application running on a Linux system to create a memory range that is inaccessible to anyone else, including the kernel.

“This means cryptographic keys, sensitive data and other secrets can be stored there to limit exposure to other users or system activities,” McGrath said.

At the heart of the open source Linux operating system that powers much of the cloud and enterprise application delivery is what is known as the Linux kernel. The kernel is the component that provides the core functionality for system operations.

The Linux 5.14 kernel release has gone through seven release candidates over the last two months and benefits from the contributions of 1,650 different developers. Those that contribute to Linux kernel development include individual contributors, as well as large vendors like Intel, AMD, IBM, Oracle and Samsung. One of the largest contributors to any given Linux kernel release is IBM’s Red Hat business unit. IBM acquired Red Hat for $ 34 billion in a deal that closed in 2019.

“As with pretty much every kernel release, we see some very innovative capabilities in 5.14,” McGrath said.

While Linux 5.14 will be out soon, it often takes time until it is adopted inside of enterprise releases. McGrath said that Linux 5.14 will first appear in Red Hat’s Fedora community Linux distribution and will be a part of the future Red Hat Enterprise Linux 9 release. Gerald Pfeifer, CTO for enterprise Linux vendor SUSE, told TechCrunch that his company’s openSUSE Tumbleweed community release will likely include the Linux 5.14 kernel within “days” of the official release. On the enterprise side, he noted that SUSE Linux Enterprise 15 SP4, due next spring, is scheduled to come with the 5.14 kernel.

The new Linux update follows a major milestone for the open source operating system, as it was 30 years ago this past Wednesday that creator Linus Torvalds (pictured above) first publicly announced the effort. Over that time Linux has gone from being a hobbyist effort to powering the infrastructure of the internet.

McGrath commented that Linux is already the backbone for the modern cloud and Red Hat is also excited about how Linux will be the backbone for edge computing — not just within telecommunications, but broadly across all industries, from manufacturing and healthcare to entertainment and service providers, in the years to come.

The longevity and continued importance of Linux for the next 30 years is assured in Pfeifer’s view. He noted that over the decades Linux and open source have opened up unprecedented potential for innovation, coupled with openness and independence.

“Will Linux, the kernel, still be the leader in 30 years? I don’t know. Will it be relevant? Absolutely,” he said. “Many of the approaches we have created and developed will still be pillars of technological progress 30 years from now. Of that I am certain.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


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

August 27, 2021 No Comments

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 e-commerce 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.


Social – TechCrunch


Stonehenge Technology Labs bags $2M, gives CPG companies one-touch access to metrics

August 27, 2021 No Comments

Stonehenge Technology Labs wants consumer packaged goods companies to gain meaningful use from all of the data they collect. It announced $ 2 million in seed funding for its STOPWATCH commerce enhancement software.

The round was led by Irish Angels, with participation from Bread and Butter Ventures, Gaingels, Angeles Investors, Bonfire Ventures and Red Tail Venture Capital.

CEO Meagan Kinmonth Bowman founded the Arkansas-based company in 2019 after working at Hallmark, where she was tasked with the digital transformation of the company.

“This was not a consequence of them not being good marketers or connected to mom, but they didn’t have the technology to connect their back end with retailers like Amazon, Walmart or Hobby Lobby,” she told TechCrunch. “There are so many smart people building products to connect with consumers. The challenge is the big guys are doing things the same way and not thinking like the 13-year-olds on social media that are actually winning the space.”

Kinmonth Bowman and her team recognized that there was a missing middle layer connecting the world of dotcom with brick and mortar. If the middle layer could be applied to the enterprise resource plans and integrate public and private data feeds, a company could be just as profitable online as it could be in traditional retail, she said.

Stonehenge’s answer to that is STOPWATCH, which takes in over 100 million rows of data per workspace per day, analyzes the data points, adds real-time alerts and provides the right data to the right people at the right time.

Dan Rossignol, a B2B SaaS investor, said the CPG world is also about consumerizing our life, and the global pandemic showed that even at home, people could have a productive day and business. Rossignol likes to invest in underestimated founders and saw in Stonehenge a company that is getting CPGs out from underneath antiquated technologies.

“What Meagan and her team are doing is really interesting,” he added. “At this stage, it is all about the people, and the ability to bet on doing something larger.”

Kinmonth Bowman said she had the opportunity to base the company in Silicon Valley, but chose Bentonville, Arkansas instead to be closer to the more than 1,000 CPG companies based there that she felt were the prime customer base for STOPWATCH.

The platform was originally created as a subsidiary of a consulting company, but in 2018, one of their clients told them they just wanted the software rather than also paying for the consulting piece. The business was split, and Stonehenge went underground for eight months to make a software product specifically for the client.

Kinmonth Bowman admits the technology itself is not that sexy — it is using exact transfer loads to extract data from hundreds of systems into a “lake house,” and then siloing it by retailer and other factors and then presenting the data in different ways. For example, the CEO will want different metrics than product teams.

Over the past year, the company has doubled its revenue and also doubled the amount of contracts. It already counts multiple Fortune 100 companies and emerging brands as some of its early users and plans to use the new funding to hire a sales team and go after some strategic relationships.

Stonehenge is also working on putting together a diverse workforce that mimics the users of the software, Kinmonth Bowman said. One of the challenges has been to get unique talent to move to Arkansas, but she said it is one she is eager to take on.

Meanwhile, Brett Brohl, managing partner at Bread and Butter Ventures, said the Stonehenge team “is just crazy enough, smart and driven” to build something great.

“All of the biggest companies have been around for a long time, but not a lot of large organizations have done a good job digitizing their businesses,” he said. “Even pre-COVID, they were building fill-in-the-blank digital transformations, but COVID accelerated technology and hit a lot of companies in the face. That was made more obvious to end consumers, which puts more pressure on companies to understand the need, which is good for STOPWATCH. It went from paper to Excel spreadsheets to the next cloud modification. The time is right for the next leap and how to use data.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


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