Alibaba acquires Israeli VR startup Infinity Augmented Reality

Infinity Augmented Reality, an Israeli virtual reality startup, has been acquired by Alibaba, the companies announced this weekend. The deal’s terms were not disclosed. Alibaba and InfinityAR have had a strategic partnership since 2016, when Alibaba Group led InfinityAR’s Series C. Since then, the two have collaborated on augmented reality, computer vision and artificial intelligence projects.

Founded in 2013, the startup’s augmented glasses platform enables developers in a wide range of industries (retail, gaming, medical, etc.) to integrate AR into their apps. InfinityAR’s products include software for ODMs and OEMs and a SDK plug-in for 3D engines.

Alibaba’s foray into virtual reality started three years ago, when it invested in Magic Leap and then announced a new research lab in China to develop ways of incorporating virtual reality into its e-commerce platform.

InfinityAR’s research and development team will begin working out of Alibaba’s Israel Machine Laboratory, part of Alibaba DAMO Academy, the R&D initiative it is pouring $15 billion into with the goal of eventually serving two billion customers and creating 100 million jobs by 2036. DAMO Academy collaborates with universities around the world and Alibaba’s Israel Machine Laboratory has a partnership with Tel Aviv University focused on video analysis and machine learning.

In a press statement, the laboratory’s head, Lihi Zelnik-Manor, said “Alibaba is delighted to be working with InfinityAR as one team after three years of partnership. The talented team brings unique knowhow in sensor fusion, computer vision and navigation technologies. We look forward to exploring these leading technologies and offering additional benefits to customers, partners and developers.”

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How Salesforce paved the way for the SaaS platform approach

When we think of enterprise SaaS companies today, just about every startup in the space aspires to be a platform. That means they want people using their stack of services to build entirely new applications, either to enhance the base product, or even build entirely independent companies. But when Salesforce launched Force.com, the company’s Platform as a Service in 2007, there wasn’t any model.

It turns out that Force.com was actually the culmination of a series of incremental steps after the launch of the first version of Salesforce in February, 2000, all of which were designed to make the software more flexible for customers. Company co-founder and CTO Parker Harris says that they didn’t have this goal to be a platform early on. “We were a solution first, I would say. We didn’t say let’s build a platform and then build sales-force automation on top of it. We wanted a solution that people could actually use,” Harris told TechCrunch.

The march toward becoming a full-fledged platform started with simple customization. That first version of Salesforce was pretty basic, and the company learned over time that customers didn’t always use the same language it did to describe customers and accounts — and that was something that would need to change.

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HoneyBook, a client management platform for creative businesses, raises $28M Series C led by Citi Ventures

HoneyBook co-founders Oz and Naama Alon

HoneyBook, a customer-relationship management platform aimed at small businesses in creative fields, announced today it has raised a $28 million Series C led by Citi Ventures. All of its existing investors, including Norwest Venture Partners, Aleph, Vintage Investment Partners and Hillsven Capital, also returned for the round. Citi is a strategic partner for HoneyBook and this will enable it to offer new financial products to freelancers, its co-founder and CEO Oz Alon told TechCrunch.

This brings HoneyBook’s total raised so far to $72 million. It is using the funds to grow its teams in San Francisco and Tel Aviv and build new features for its user base, including small companies, people who work by themselves (“solopreneurs”) and freelancers. Like other CRMs, HoneyBook helps them develop relationships with potential new clients, manage projects, send invoices and accept payments, but with tools scaled for their business’ needs.

Alon told TechCrunch in an email that one segment HoneyBook is focused on is millennials (he cites a survey that found 49 percent of people under 40 plan to start their own business). HoneyBook currently claims tens of thousands of customers and has passed $1 billion in business booked using its software, along with 75,000 members in Rising Tide, the company’s online community for creative entrepreneurs.

Other management software platforms competing for the attention of entrepreneurs and freelancers include Tave, Dubsado and 17hats. One of the main ways HoneyBook differentiates is by enabling its users to accept online payments without integrating with a third-party service. Thanks to this, its users “transact more than 80 percent of their business online, significantly more than any other payments platform serving this audience, Alon said. It’s partnership with Citi will also allow the company to develop more unique services for its target customers, he added.

In a prepared statement, Citi Ventures’ Israel director and venture investing lead Omit Shinar said “We are in the midst of a period of extensive changes in societal structures and economic models. The fintech ecosystem is producing more and more breakthrough innovations that serve the needs of modern consumers, and we believe, as a pioneer in its space, HoneyBook can become a market leader in the U.S.”

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Microsoft Defender comes to the Mac

Microsoft today announced that it is bringing its Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) to the Mac. Previously, this was a Windows solution for protecting the machines of Microsoft 365 subscribers and assets the IT admins that try to keep them safe. It was also previously called Windows Defender ATP, but given that it is now on the Mac, too, Microsoft decided to drop the ‘Windows Defender’ moniker in favor or ‘Microsoft Defender.’

“For us, it’s all about experiences that follow the person and help the individual be more productive,” Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate VP for Office and Windows, told me. “Just like we did with Office back in the day — that was a big move for us to move it off of Windows-only — but it was absolutely the right thing. So that’s where we’re headed.”

He stressed that this means that Microsoft is moving off its “Windows-centric approach to life.” He likened it to bringing the Office apps to the iPad and Android. “We’re just headed in that same direction of saying that it’s our intent that we can secure every endpoint so that this Microsoft 365 experience is not just Windows-centric,” Spataro said. Indeed, he argued that the news here isn’t even so much the launch of this service for the Mac but that Microsoft is reorienting the way it thinks about how it can deliver value for Microsoft 365 clients.

Given that Microsoft Defender is part of the Microsoft 365 package, you may wonder why those users would even care about the Mac, but there are plenty of enterprises that use a mix of Windows machines and Mac, and which provide all of their employees with Office already. Having a security solution that spans both systems can greatly reduce complexity for IT departments — and keeping up with security vulnerabilities on one system is hard enough to begin with.

In addition to the launch of the Mac version of Microsoft Defender ATP, the company also today announced the launch of new threat and vulnerability management capabilities for the service. Over the last few months, Microsoft had already launched a number of new features that help businesses proactively monitor and identify security threats.

“What we’re hearing from customers now, is that the landscape is getting increasingly sophisticated, the volume of alerts that we’re starting to get is pretty overwhelming,” Spataro said. “We really don’t have the budget to hire the thousands of people required to sort through all this and figure out what to do.”

So with this new tool, Microsoft uses its machine learning smarts to prioritize threads and present them to its customers for remediation.

To Spataro, these announcements come down to the fact that Microsoft is slowly morphing into more of a security company than ever before. “I think we’ve made a lot more progress than people realize,” he said. “And it’s been driven by the market.” He noted that its customers have long asked Microsoft to help them protect their endpoints. Now, he argues, customers have realized that Microsoft is now moving to this person-centric approach (instead of a Windows-centric one) and that the company may now be able to help them protect large parts of their systems. At the same time, Microsoft realized that it could use all of the billions of signals it gets from its users to better help its customers proactively.

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Windows Virtual Desktop is now in public preview

Last year, Microsoft announced the launch of its Windows Virtual Desktop service. At the time, this was a private preview, but starting today, any enterprise user who wants to try out what using a virtual Windows 10 desktop that’s hosted in the Azure cloud looks like will be able to give it a try.

It’s worth noting that this is very much a product for businesses. You’re not going to use this to play Apex Legends on a virtual machine somewhere in the cloud. The idea here is that a service like this, which also includes access to Office 365 ProPlus, makes managing machines and the software that runs on them easier for enterprises. It also allows employers in regulated industries to provide their mobile workers with a virtual desktop that ensures that all of their precious data remains secure.

One stand-out feature here is that businesses can run multiple Windows 10 sessions on a single virtual machine.

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It’s also worth noting that many of the features of this service are powered by technology from FSLogix, which Microsoft acquired last year. Specifically, these technologies allow Microsoft to give the non-persistent users relatively fast access to applications like their Outlook and OneDrive applications, for example.

For most Microsoft 365 enterprise customers, access to this service is simply part of the subscription cost they already pay — though they will need an Azure subscription and pay for the virtual machines that run in the cloud.

Right now, the service is only available in the US East 2 and US Central Azure regions. Over time, and once the preview is over, Microsoft will expand it to all of its cloud regions.

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