Open source and coopetition are the new normal

In a month of unexpected outcomes, we have also seen some tech partnership announcements, ones we thought we might never see. In fact, just this week we witnessed Microsoft joining the Linux foundation and Google joining Microsoft’s .NET foundation.

You cannot minimize just how at odds these announcements are with what has been the reality of the tech industry over the last 20 years. These are organizations that have battled one other in a bitter war of words and technology visions. The idea that they would someday be working together was a highly unlikely outcome.

And yet it happened surprisingly fast, as the changing nature of the industry has forced companies who once diametrically opposed one another to start working together for the sake of their customers.

Changing business models

Back in the day when companies lived inside their proprietary stacks, they could afford to make it difficult to work together. Those days are gone, and in the age of the cloud, customers are demanding interoperability — and the big platform companies are duty-bound to give it to them.

We saw a similarly curious partnership play out last year at Dreamforce when Satya Nadella appeared on stage at Salesforce’s massive customer conference. You have to have followed the industry for the last decade to truly understand how implausible this would have been just a few years ago. These were two companies at each other’s throats suing and counter-suing one another.

There seemed little likelihood that the company CEOs — Salesforce’s Marc Benioff and Nadella — would ever appear onstage together, but here they were smiling and shaking hands and appearing for all intents and purposes to be best buddies. Benioff talked about how incredible Microsoft was as a company and what a great leader Nadella was.

Nadella said something that has stuck with me to this day, and is worth repeating: “It is incumbent upon us, especially those of us who are platform vendors, to partner broadly to solve real pain points our customers have.”

He clearly understood that to survive and thrive in today’s marketplace, Microsoft has to work with companies it once considered enemies. Yet Nadella said something else that day that could explain the incongruence we are seeing in the tech industry as players partner one day and compete the next.

As I wrote last year in Cooperation is the new normal at Microsoft:

[Nadella] added that he doesn’t see this as a zero sum competitive game. Of course Microsoft will compete hard within markets, but he sees such a huge opportunity around digital transformation, and these partnerships can only help amplify that.

Perhaps that explains how gleefully Microsoft announced it had landed HP as a CRM customer last September — snatching it away from frenemy Salesforce. Microsoft’s VP of cloud and enterprise, Scott Guthrie was positively gushing about it, as quoted in a story on GeekWire:

HP Inc. “is a very large Salesforce shop — or they were until yesterday,” Guthrie said. “It was a Salesforce takeout. HP Inc. is planning a massive migration and a big bet on Dynamics. It’s one of the more public (wins) we’ve had.”

Sleeping with the enemy

That brings us to this week’s announcements where Microsoft joined the Linux Foundation, an organization it has fought with for years. Microsoft spent the 1990s and early 2000s dismissing Linux and open source in general. This week, it forked over $500,000 to become a Platinum member of the organization.

The move toward Linux actually shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider that Microsoft reports that one-third of Azure virtual machines are running Linux. If that’s where the customers are going, Microsoft had little choice but to follow.

Meanwhile, we have Google and Microsoft, two companies that are competing hard with one another in the cloud, joining forces around .NET. Both companies are chasing rival AWS, so perhaps it’s a case of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ Of course, trying to tell who’s an enemy and who’s a friend has gotten appreciably more difficult.

Ultimately, we have gotten to this point for a couple of reasons. First of all, technology has become so complex, it’s become increasingly difficult for any one organization to provide the entire solution (or at least do all of it well). The other factor, which may be most important of all, is that customers want choice. They don’t want to be beholden to any single vendor, and they are demanding interoperability.

Yet it would be a mistake to think this is just something Microsoft is doing. It’s a story that’s being played out all over the tech industry as companies that once competed fiercely with one another look for ways to work together, even as they struggle to find that competitive edge to beat their partners. Strange days, indeed.

Featured Image: Artem Dunaev / EyeEm/Getty Images

Kubernetes founders launch Heptio with $8.5M in funding to help bring containers to the enterprise

For years, the public face of Kubernetes was one of the project’s founders: Google group product manager Craig McLuckie. He started the open-source container-management project together with Joe Beda, Brendan Burns and a few other engineers inside of Google, which has since brought it under the guidance of the newly formed Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Beda became an entrepreneur-in-residence at Accel Partners in late 2015, Burns left Google for Microsoft earlier this year and McLuckie quietly left Google to start a new venture a few weeks ago. McLuckie and Beda have now teamed up again to launch Heptio, a new pure-play Kubernetes company.

“It became clear to me through a series of conversations with customers that there was a very strong need for a Kubernetes-focused company to emerge that wasn’t tied to an adjacent business,” McLuckie, who will be Heptio’s CEO, told me. Potential Kubernetes users in the enterprise want to have a safe abstraction layer that allows them to run the applications they want in the environment of their choosing, the team believes. What they don’t want is to lock themselves into a future where their infrastructure and applications are closely tied together. “I look at the way that customers are perceiving the emergence of the cloud,” McLuckie said. “A lot of enterprise customers are leery that it’s moving back into the world of mainframes.”

By focusing purely on providing services and tools around Kubernetes, McLuckie and Beda believe that they can be a neutral partner to enterprises that are looking to adopt containers and Kubernetes.

Given its founders’ history, it’s no surprise that Heptio will also join the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Both McLuckie and Beda, who will be the company’s CTO, stressed that Heptio will work in the open and contribute to the wider Kubernetes project. “As we look at the future of this, one key aspect I want us to inherit from the Kubernetes ecosystem is that sense of camaraderie and openness,” McLuckie said.

What exactly Heptio’s products will look like, though, still remains to be seen. While McLuckie noted that there are some obvious gaps in the Kubernetes toolchain and ecosystem (he especially stressed the need for easier ways to stand up Kubernetes clusters), the company likely won’t have any services on the market for the next few months. What the team did say, though, was that Heptio is a product company — though like most open-source businesses, it also expects to sell support and services.  “We see a massive ecosystem around this in the future,” Beda said.

For now, the Heptio team is just McLuckie and Beda, but the funding will allow them to quickly scale up the company now. Given their pedigree, it’s no surprise that the company has already raised an $8.5 million funding round, either (and it’s basically bypassing the seed round stage). This round was led by Accell (again, no surprise given Beda’s background) and Madrona Venture Group (also no surprise, given that both McLuckie and Beda are based in Seattle).

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Google’s DNI fund puts €24M into 124 news projects across Europe

Google’s ongoing effort to fix its reputation in the world of publishing in Europe took another step forward today.

The Digital News Initiative, a group formed by the search giant to explore, promote and financially back new efforts in news publishing, announced that it is putting €24 million ($26 million) into 124 projects across 25 countries in Europe. The efforts span major newspapers embarking on projects to advance data journalism and the use of AI to surface stories for readers, through to a nonprofit developing ways to weed out fake news, a timely subject in the wake of the recent U.S. election.

More highlights of the projects below, and a detailed run-down can be found here.

This is the second tranche of funding from the DNI, which was launched in 2015 and opened up for applications a year ago. If 124 sounds like a lot of projects, that appears to be the strategy for Google: fund far and wide with smaller sums of money. The first group of funded projects, announced earlier this year, numbered 128, which received a total of €30 million.

Google’s efforts to support news organizations big and small trying out new things comes at the same time that the company is trying to negotiate a path forward in Europe with regulators, who are coming after it with a series of antitrust cases accusing it of being too dominant, not just in its search business, but in its mobile Android business, as well.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai is currently in Europe and is expected to meet with Margrethe Vestager, the EU antitrust chief, on Friday of this week, to discuss the ongoing cases.

The DNI work also comes at a time when many news organizations are struggling against the economics of the news industry — which has had a messy transition from being a profitable, print-based business that made money through both newspaper sales and advertising, to a largely ad-based free effort that is available online through a vast proliferation of outlets.

That is a trend that is hurting not just smaller primary news outfits but some of the most iconic among them. The WSJ and the Guardian are among the larger publications that have announced job cuts in recent months; among some of the newer groups, Fusion and Univision yesterday said they will lay off up to 250 staff, with some of that already taking effect. (And that’s before you start to consider smaller blogs.)

Some have laid at least part of the blame for the slow demise of the news industry at Google’s feet (and more recently Facebook’s) because of the way that they aggregate and share headlines and offer their own way to quickly scan the basics of stories without needing to click into publishers’ own sites, making it a challenge to institute subscriptions or paywalls around that content, or even benefit from an uptick in traffic that can be used to promote ad sales.

Still, some publishers have tried to forge ways of working with these portal behemoths, for example, by incorporating Google’s AMP project and Facebook’s Instant Articles to make the experience of viewing articles faster (even if, such as in the case of Instant Articles, those publishers are again giving up some of their traffic in the name of better UX).

The DNI sits as a counterbalance to this, with some 180 members from across the industry in Europe aiming at coming up with ways to build smarter, tech-driven news organizations that will, arguably, be in control of their own disruption and therefore at least reap the financial benefits of that.

Notably, as part of the financial backing, Google and the DNI do not take any equity stake in the projects or the companies running them.

Ludovic Blecher, the head of Digital News Initiative Innovation Fund at Google, said that the main criteria for this latest tranche of funding included not only “impact, innovation and project feasibility” but also projects focused on collaboration.

“The projects that stood out prioritise collaborative approaches between publishers, academics, designers and entrepreneurs, both within a single country and across Europe,” he said. The range of individual funding can go from €50,000 to €300,000 typically, although can be higher in special cases.

Getting even €50,000 from Google is a competitive process. There were 850 submissions for this latest round of funding, and Google said that 43 focus on collaboration. “We see this collaboration — across countries, across newsrooms and across specialties — as an amazing display of the intent to energise the European news ecosystem with new ideas, new technologies and more,” he notes.

DNI_Infographic_Round2 (2).gif

We have taken a deeper dive into one of the projects getting funding today from Google, in part because it’s a timely issue: Full Fact, a nonprofit out of the U.K., will be using the funding not just to continue building out its human team of fact checkers, but also to embark on building some automated fact-checking tools.

Among others getting funding, Google highlights the following three, all classified as bigger projects: one in data science; one developing a chatbot to answer newsy questions; and one working on finding a publication’s best “evergreen” content that’s not time-sensitive but potentially interesting for readers nonetheless.

Spiegel Online – Germany – in collaboration with Institut für Spielanalyse & TU München
What happens when you mix sports reporting and data science? With EUR 689,116 from the DNI, Spiegel’s collaborative project aims to create an entirely new way for readers and journalists to experience and analyze soccer games. With a goal of using new approaches in data collection, data interpretation and player analysis, Spiegel Online plans to help fans become experts — using novel applications of artificial intelligence.

Corriere della Sera: The Vocal Bot – Italy
With EUR 300,000 in funding, Corriere della Sera will pursue the design of a digital assistant where Corriere della Sera can answer users’ news-related questions on a variety of devices. The ambition is to be able to answer natural language queries such as “Please, tell me the latest on the Brexit” or “Who won today’s GP?.” The “Digital Assistant” will read headlines and articles, search Corriere della Sera’s archives, and scrape the publisher’s digital content for material.

Le Temps SA – Switzerland
The industry agrees that exceptional content increases loyalty and engagement. So with EUR 45,000 in funding, Le Temps is pursuing a tool to resurface and republish the newsroom’s best ‘evergreen’ articles when they relate to current events. Called “Zombie,” the tool will analyse articles on Le Temps’ website using data from both Chartbeat and Google Analytics and apply a score to each piece. At the same time Zombie will analyse web activity for trending topics — which can be matched to Le Temp’s database of content. If so, the tool will alert the newsroom.

Featured Image: Vincent Isore/Getty Images

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Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms now let you create custom templates

Here is a small but very useful (and long overdue) update to Google’s G Suite apps: Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms are getting support for creating custom, reusable templates that you can share with your co-workers.

While you may not use templates much in your day-to-day G Suite life, this is a necessary feature for businesses. You don’t want to have to recreate your report or newsletter layout every time you start a new one, after all. For the most part then, the addition of template support in Google Docs is yet another example of Google trying to make its service more attractive to business users as it gets serious about the enterprise.

sonic_meeting_1200x863-1Google notes that G Suite for Business and Education will be able to require their users to request approval before their templates appear in the domain-wide template gallery. In addition, they can restrict who can even submit templates to begin with.

Google launched professionally designed templates for its G Suite back in March.

It’s worth noting that Google already offered a somewhat similar feature and template gallery for Google Docs in the past. The old gallery was also never updated and still featured Google’s pre-Material Design look.

The new gallery and template creation process looks to be far more integrated with all of Google’s G Suite apps than the old process ever was. As a Google spokesperson told me, the old templates gallery will shut down in early 2017.