Microsoft to acquire Xoxco as focus on AI and bot developers continues

Microsoft has been all in on AI this year, and in the build versus buy equation, the company has been leaning heavily toward buying. This morning, the company announced its intent to acquire Xoxco, an Austin-based software developer with a focus on bot design, making it the fourth AI-related company Microsoft has purchased this year.

“Today, we are announcing we have signed an agreement to acquire Xoxco, a software product design and development studio known for its conversational AI and bot development capabilities,” Lili Cheng, corporate VP for conversational AI at Microsoft wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition. Xoxco, which was founded in 2009 long before most of us were thinking about conversational bots, has raised $1.5 million. It began working on bots in 2013, and is credited with developing the first bot for Slack to help schedule meetings. The companies did not reveal the price,
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Airbnb ends forced arbitration days after Google, Facebook did the same

The Google employee walkout on Nov. 1 is leaving a lasting impact on the tech industry.

In the immediate aftermath of the walkout, which saw thousands of Googlers across the globe protest the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment and misconduct claims, the search giant said it would put an end to its policy of forced arbitration for employees claiming workplace harassment. Facebook followed suit, announcing the next day that it would allow its employees to pursue claims of sexual harassment in court. Today, Airbnb and eBay confirmed to TechCrunch they too would no longer require sexual harassment claims to be settled through private arbitration. Their announcements follow a BuzzFeed News article exploring which tech companies were updating their policies in light of the Google protest.

Thousands of Google employees protested the company’s handling of sexual harassment & misconduct allegations on Nov. 1.

“We are a company who believes that in
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In venture capital, it’s still the age of the unicorn

This month marks the 5-year anniversary of Aileen Lee’s landmark article, “Welcome To The Unicorn Club”.

At the time, the piece defined a new breed of startup — the $1 billion privately held company. When Lee did her first count, there were 39 “unicorns”; an improbable, but not impossible number.. Today, the once-scarce unicorn has become a global herd with 376 companies on the roster and counting.

But the proliferation of unicorns begs raises certain questions. Is this new breed of unicorn artificially created? Could these magical companies see their valuations slip and fall out of the herd? Does this indicate an irrational exuberance where investors

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Microsoft adds RPG makers InXile and Obsidian to Xbox developer stable

Microsoft is continuing to invest in a broad spectrum of developers for its Xbox gaming ecosystem with the acquisition of Obsidian and InXile, makers of complex RPGs primarily aimed at PC users. The two studios will join four others snatched up in June, significantly bolstering Xbox’s first-party development resources.

The company announced the acquisitions (rumored for some time) at its XO18 event alongside numerous other interesting developments for the Xbox One and Windows gaming platforms. Xbox Director of Programming Larry Hyrb, better known by his pseudonym Major Nelson, welcomed them to the Microsoft Studios team of owned but independent devs:

Of the two studios Obsidian is probably the best known; Fallout: New Vegas is a

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Xbox One will work with keyboard and mouse as of November 14th, starting with Fortnite

We knew the Xbox One was set to get keyboard and mouse support eventually, but now we know exactly when: November 14th.

Don’t expect all Xbox One games to play friendly with the new keyboard/mouse functionality right out of the gate. It’s up to individual developers to figure out if/how it works with their games and patch things up accordingly, so only a handful will support it at first. But one of the first titles picking up support is a big one: Fortnite, the free-to-play third person shooter that has taken over the world, will roll out support with an update later this week. As will Warframe, the free-to-play coop shooter. Bomber Crew, Strange Brigade, Warhammer: Vermintide 2, War Thunder, X-Morph: Defense, and Deep Rock Galactic will get support later in November, while Children of Morta, Vigor, Warface, Wargroove
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Amazon launches Alexa app for Windows 10 PCs

Amazon today launched an Alexa app for Windows 10 PCs on the Microsoft Store. The voice application allows PC owners to speak to Alexa to set reminders, timers, alarms; create lists and to-dos; track their calendar appointments; get news, weather and other information; play music; listen to podcasts and audiobooks; control the smart home, and more.

The app is another way that Alexa is being unhitched from Echo speakers and other devices that generally stay in the home. Similar to the Alexa app for mobile devices, the Windows 10 app means you can use Alexa when you’re traveling for access to content and information, as well as to do things like lock your doors or check your security cameras, for example. The app also offers access to tens of thousands of Alexa skills, says Amazon. However, some features – including video, communications, Spotify and Pandora – are not supported on
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Grab lands $50M from Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank to further its fintech push

Southeast Asia ride-hailing firm Grab is continuing to add strategic investors to its ongoing Series H round — which is targeted at over $3 billion — after it revealed Thai bank Kasikorn put in $50 million as part of a strategic partnership to advance its financial services strategy.

Kasikorn joins Hyundai ($250 million), Microsoft (undisclosed) and travel firm Booking ($200 million) as strategic backers announced over the past month. The round also includes Toyota, which invested $1 billion in its largest ride-hailing deal to date, and institutional investors OppenheimerFunds, Ping An Capital, Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Macquarie Capital. In the case of Kasikorn, Grab is working with the bank to roll out its GrabPay payment service in Thailand, a country with over 60 million people, as it begins to truly take steps to become a fintech player, in addition to ride-hailing.

Grab pulls in $250M from Hyundai as ongoing round reaches $2.7B

Grab, the Singapore startup that bought Uber’s Southeast Asia business earlier this year, continues to announce strategic investors for its ongoing Series H funding round. The latest edition revealed today is Korean automotive firm Hyundai, which is investing $250 million.

Hyundai first invested in Grab in January, and it joins recently announced investors Microsoft (undisclosed) and Booking Holdings ($200 million) in the round, which is aimed at reaching at least $3 billion before the end of this year. Grab first announced a $1 billion investment from Toyota in June and that was doubled to $2 billion when a range of institutional backers joined. Those include OppenheimerFunds, Ping An Capital, Mirae Asset-Naver Asia Growth Fund, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Macquarie Capital, and today Grab disclosed two others: Goldman Sachs Investment Partners and Citi Ventures. In total, these additions take that Series H round to $2.7 billion so far, Grab
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Review: The iPad Pro and the power of the Pen(cil)

Laptop users have been focused for a very long time on whether the iPad Pro is going to be forced upon them as a replacement device.

Depending on who you believe, Apple included, it has at one point been considered that, or a pure tablet with functions to be decided completely by the app development community, or something all its own.

But with the iPad Pro, the Smart Keyboard and the new version of Apple’s Pencil, some things are finally starting to become clear.

The new hardware, coupled with the ability and willingness of companies like Adobe to finally ship completely full-featured versions of Photoshop that handle enormous files and all of the tools and brushes of the desktop version, are opening a new door on what could be possible with iPad Pro — if Apple are ready to embrace it.

Pencil

Does the double tap gesture feel natural? Yep.

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Village Global’s accelerator introduces founders to Bill Gates, Reid Hoffman, Eric Schmidt and more

Village Global is leveraging its network of tech luminaries to support the next generation of entrepreneurs.

The $100 million early-stage venture capital firm, which counts Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and many other high-profile techies as limited partners (LPs), quietly announced on Friday that the accelerator it piloted earlier this year would become a permanent fixture. Called Network Catalyst, Village provides formation-stage startups with $150,000 and three-months of programming in exchange for 7 percent equity. Its key offering, however, is access to its impressive roster of LPs.

To formally announce Network Catalyst, Village brought none other than Bill Gates to San Francisco for a fireside chat with Eventbrite CEO Julia Hartz . During the hour-long talk, Gates handed out candid advice on building a successful company, insights on philanthropy and predictions

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Microsoft’s game streaming service Mixer adds more ways for streamers to make money

Microsoft today is rolling out a new version of its game streaming service, Mixer, which it’s calling “Season 2” to reflect the fact that the changes are ongoing, not a one-day release. The company says it’s specifically investing in new areas around expression, monetization, and creator communities.

The first of these, called Skills, are focused on giving users more ways to participate in chats with stickers and GIFs, and other screen effects that remind you a bit of those you’d find on iMessage. For example, there are celebratory fireworks and confetti to be tossed around, as well as a beachball that the community members can keep bouncing. Streamers will like these, too, as it helps them to make money. “Every time you use a Skill on a partner’s channel, it supports that partner financially,” Microsoft says. It also says the selection of Skills will be updated regularly, going
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The hybrid cloud market just got a heck of a lot more compelling

Let’s start with a basic premise that the vast majority of the world’s workloads remain in private data centers. Cloud infrastructure vendors are working hard to shift those workloads, but technology always moves a lot slower than we think. That is the lens through which many cloud companies operate.

The idea that you operate both on prem and in the cloud with multiple vendors is the whole idea behind the notion of the hybrid cloud. It’s where companies like Microsoft, IBM, Dell and Oracle are placing their bets. These died-in-the-wool enterprise companies see their large customers making a slower slog to the cloud than you would imagine, and they want to provide them with the tools and technologies to manage across both worlds, while helping them shift when they are ready. Cloud-native computing developed in part to provide a single management fabric across on prem and cloud, freeing IT from
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Eaze co-founder Keith McCarty raises $5M for his new B2B cannabis startup

Keith McCarty couldn’t stay out of the booming weed business for long.

The co-founder and former chief executive officer of the well-funded marijuana delivery startup Eaze has launched WAYV, a B2B cannabis logistics and compliance platform that delivers inventory to cannabis retailers. Today, the company is announcing its first round of funding, a $5 million seed round led by David Sacks at Craft Ventures. The round represents the former PayPal executive’s first investment in the cannabis technology sector. Other investors in the round declined to be named. McCarty and Sacks previously worked together at Yammer, a private social networking tool used by businesses created by Sacks in 2008. The company sold to Microsoft in 2012 for $1.2 billion, giving McCarty and several others enough cash to experiment. For McCarty, that meant exploring the hazy and uncharted territory that was marijuana delivery. McCarty, however, mysteriously left Eaze right
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Vimeo subscribers can now publish videos directly to LinkedIn

Vimeo announced today a new feature that will allow videos to be published directly to LinkedIn. The added support is a part of the company’s “Publish to Social” feature, which already offers publishing to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and is available to paid subscribers. The expansion to LinkedIn is another example of the company’s shift in focus from being a video destination site to one that sells tools and services to professional and semi-professional video creators.

The company last year scrapped its plans for a subscription video-on-demand service, promoted its creator business lead Anjali Sud to CEO, and acquired live video streaming platform Livestream, as a part of its broader plan to serve the video creator community through services. Earlier this year, it announced “Publish to Social,” a tool that support uploading videos to multiple sites at once, as a part of all Plus, PRO, Business, and live plans.
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Southeast Asia’s Grab pulls in $200M from travel giant Booking

Fresh from a strategic investment from Microsoft, Southeast Asia’s ride-hailing leader Grab is back in the money again after it closed $200 million in fresh capital from Booking Holdings, the travel firm formerly known as Priceline.

The investment is part of an ongoing round of funding that Grab said is on course to reach $3 billion before the end of the year. Grab raised $2 billion for the round — including a $1 billion check from Totoya — but it continues to add strategic partners, like Microsoft and Booking. Grab — which bought Uber’s regional business in March and is present in eight countries — is valued at $11 billion and we understand that hasn’t changed with this round. The deal — which mimics Booking’s recent $500 million investment in China’s Didi — will lead to the two companies team up to offer reciprocal services. That’ll see Grab’s transportation services
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Forget Watson, the Red Hat acquisition may be the thing that saves IBM

With its latest $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat, IBM may have found something more elementary than “Watson” to save its flagging business.

Though the acquisition of Red Hat  is by no means a guaranteed victory for the Armonk, N.Y.-based computing company that has had more downs than ups over the five years, it seems to be a better bet for “Big Blue” than an artificial intelligence program that was always more hype than reality.

Indeed, commentators are already noting that this may be a case where IBM finally hangs up the Watson hat and returns to the enterprise software and services business that has always been its core competency (albeit one that has been weighted far more heavily on consulting services — to the detriment of

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The largest software acquisition ever: IBM to buy Red Hat for $34B

At a price typically reserved for semiconductor companies, telecoms, and pharmaceutical giants, IBM announced today it would pay a record $34 billion in cash and debt to acquire enterprise open source provider Red Hat. Eclipsing Microsoft’s $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, this is the biggest software acquisition in history. It’s not the biggest tech acquisition ever, though, as that title belongs to Dell’s $67 billion buyout of data storage business EMC.

You can learn about what IBM is buying Red Hat to become a hybrid cloud company in TechCrunch editor Ingrid Lunden’s deep dive here:

So how does the IBM-Red Hat deal (if it closes), stack up against the other largest acquisitions of all time?

Top Tech Acquisitions

  1. $67 billion – Personal computer company Dell buys EMC data storage
  2. $37
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Microsoft has no problem taking the $10B JEDI cloud contract if it wins

The Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI cloud contract bidding process has drawn a lot of attention. Earlier this month, Google withdrew, claiming ethical considerations. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos responded in an interview at Wired25 that he thinks that it’s a mistake for big tech companies to turn their back on the US military. Microsoft president Brad Smith agrees.

In a blog post today, he made clear that Microsoft intends to be a bidder in government/military contracts, even if some Microsoft employees have a problem with it. While acknowledging the ethical considerations of today’s most advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, and the ways they could be abused, he explicitly stated that Microsoft will continue to work with the government and the military. “First, we believe in the strong defense of the United States and we want the people who defend it to have access to the nation’s best technology, including from Microsoft,”
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Microsoft closes its $7.5B purchase of code-sharing platform GitHub

After getting EU approval a week ago, today Microsoft’s acquisition of GitHub, the Git-based code sharing and collaboration service with 31 million developers, has officially closed. The Redmond, WA-based software behemoth first said it would acquire GitHub for $7.5 billion in stock in June of this year, and after the acquisition closed it would continue to run it as an independent platform and business.

The acquisition is yet another sign of how Microsoft has been doubling down on courting developers and presenting itself as a neutral partner to help them with their projects. That is because, despite its own very profitable proprietary software business, Microsoft also has a number of other businesses — for example, Azure, which competes with AWS and Google Cloud — that rely heavily on it being unbiased towards one platform or another. And GitHub, Microsoft hopes, will be another signal to the community of that position.
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