Here are the messaging apps Slack crushed on its road to IPO

Slack was late to the world of workplace messaging apps. When it arrived in in 2013, it didn’t appear to offer much that was new — chat rooms and direct messaging were already available in a host of apps. But its co-founder Stewart Butterfield cannily presented it as a powerful alternative to email and, over time, as a command hub for the workplace that would integrate all the other software a company uses into a single interface. Slack spread like wildfire, and today is worth at least $7 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Now the company plans to make its stock available for purchase: the company filed its initial public offering today. It is expected to become one of the most valuable tech companies to go public since Snapchat.

It didn’t get this far without some carnage. Slack beat out tons of messaging apps on its way to the New York Stock Exchange, skillfully incorporating features that are fun (unlimited custom emoji reactions to messages) alongside those that are simply necessary (records retention features for large corporations).

One app it didn’t necessarily beat yet and that is arguably its biggest rival: Microsoft Teams. Microsoft has bundled Teams with Office 365 subscriptions, which becomes useful if you still use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, instead of the Google alternatives. By making Teams free for Office 365 users, Microsoft has essentially made the service into an easy default for many, and that could pose a challenge to Slack. It’s also hidden just exactly how many users are on Teams, although we know 329,000 organizations are on the service, as of September last year.

Here are some of the rival apps that have come — and in some cases, gone — since Slack came around.

Internet Relay Chat

The grandfather of internet chat is even older than AOL Instant Messenger. It’s an open protocol, and so it’s still alive and kicking — but it just never achieved the scale and popularity that Slack has, perhaps because it was just a little rough around the edges.

Skype

In the early 2010s, Skype was a common choice for workplaces to send quick messages when needed. But as a sort of all-purpose messaging app, Skype never really made adjustments for its enterprise users and seriously lacked integrations with other services. For over a decade, it didn’t even have the ability to record calls. I remember Skype fondly for letting you place international calls for a couple of dollars, but it was never great for remote work. Its animated emojis were also super corny.

HipChat

HipChat has been literally eaten by Slack, which acquired it from Atlassian in July of last year. Slack looked very similar to HipChat when it launched — but HipChat was slow to add third-party integrations, and lacked the free version that made Slack a hit with tiny startups. Atlassian attempted to launch a true Slack competitor called Stride in 2017, but gave up on it after it got little traction.

Google Hangouts Chat

Google Hangouts Chat remains a cult favorite thanks to its unlimited messages, easy access to other Google services, and more visible discussion threads. But as a lightweight chat client, Google Hangouts Chat was never going to compete with an enterprise-grade solution like Slack. (That was supposed to be the job of Google Hangouts Meet, which is a different thing that definitely… exists.)

Facebook’s Workplace

Facebook launched a version of its social network for the office in 2016. But two years of data privacy scandals have taken their toll on Workplace, which has been slow to grow amid concerns about how Facebook uses our data.

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How Buke and Gase built a huge indie rock career—and its own guitars, software

Don’t rebuke the buke —

Acclaimed band sits with Ars after making its latest amazing LP from scratch (seriously).


  • L-R: Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez perform as Buke and Gase in November 2018. Each holds one of the band’s titular, custom-built instruments: a baritone ukulele and a guitar-bass fusion.


    Sam Machkovech

  • Sanchez’s seated position lets him activate the bass-drum switch with one foot and adjust samples with the other.

  • Dyer relies more on this tambourine-fused shoe to add percussion, depending on the song.

  • The other stuff that Dyer hits with her feet during a live performance. She’s mostly focusing on the four big buttons, since the rest of the controls are handled on the fly…

  • … by this laptop rig. It does not play pre-recorded samples. Instead, it sends customized settings to each pedal and sample switch for every song. It’s effectively the band’s setlist.

  • Sanchez’s rig has a similar, custom-built switch with giant, arcade-game buttons.

  • Dyer switches from her “buke” to a rig of keyboard and touchscreens.

  • Buke and Gase, facing off.

NEW YORK CITY—The band brings to the stage: two stringed instruments, neither of which look exactly like a bass or a guitar; two grids of foot-triggered effects pedals and switches; two music stands, covered with a smattering of synthesizers, touchscreens, and touch-sensitive pads; two laptops, connected to this variety of inputs in a center console; and two foot-triggered pieces of percussion.

One of those is a compact kick-drum rig, connected to the laptops. The other is a bicycling shoe with tambourine parts welded onto its sides and sole.

This pre-show array of gear usually elicits curious looks from crowds who wonder what kind of noise is about to emerge. But the band Buke and Gase are here for a homecoming show of sorts. They’re fresh off a nationwide tour with Shellac, among the esteemed post-punk bands to have ties to the genre’s original DIY movement. They’ve just put the final touches on their new album, titled Scholars, set to launch two months later (as in, January 18). People are here to celebrate.

So the people in the crowd are mostly fans who are familiar with Buke and Gase’s unique attributes, who’ve heard the band’s critically acclaimed albums and seen them play concerts with some of indie rock’s biggest names. They’ve seen those custom-built instruments before (a baritone ukulele and fused guitar-bass—hence, the band’s name). The fans already know that the duo, Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, has built their mix of elaborate and junior-sized gear so that they can play their brand of rock in truly DIY fashion; it all fits in a sedan. And the crowd may even know about the band’s customized programming rig, used to connect all of the gear for a tone-perfect live setlist.

The result is a concert—and a new album—that see Buke and Gase at their absolute best. The album’s new songs deliver on a heady-yet-accessible fusion of genres like post-punk, dub, and (heavily amplified) folk, capped off by the inimitable sheen of Dyer’ singing. Whether bouncing through tempo changes or playing with electronics, this show is all smiles, all beauty. As for the gear—it kind of melts away.

A Blue Man, a bike-building woman

“Pink Boots,” by Buke and Gase—a song that sounds like an indie version of a really good Nike commercial theme song. I swear that’s a compliment.

One day after the show, the band’s members (Sanchez on gase, synthesizers, and drum sequencing; Dyer on buke, synthesizers, toe-tambourine, and vocals) meet me at a Brooklyn coffee shop around the corner from their homes in the area to chat about their decade-plus of music making. First off: let’s talk about those custom instruments.

Sanchez takes lead on this topic as the proprietor of a custom-gear workshop called Polyphonic Workshop. It’s been a formal business for years, but Sanchez can barely remember a time in his life when he wasn’t building musical instruments and gear.

Sanchez grew up in a small town in Maine, where his father was an artist, painter, and percussionist. “He had a book on musical-instrument building, like, creating acoustic stuff,” Sanchez says. “He got into making a marimba at one point.”

Between a basement full of woodworking tools and a town with lots of “wood and boat-building” shops nearby, Sanchez had relatively easy, cheap access to making instruments—which held his interest a bit more than the piano and music lessons he had as a kid. (“It was a lot of hand-cutting,” he remarks, since he had to rely on a jigsaw instead of a table saw.) His first creation was a monochord—”blocks of wood with a string on them. Then I realized, ‘I could electrify this.’ How does that work? Get a microphone. Get pickups. Add electronics.”

As he got older, Sanchez’s musical interests shifted—in part because he’d visit a grandparent a few times a year in New York City. “That’s where I’d get jazzed,” he says. “I’d go to Canal Street, get a bunch of parts, bring them back.” He began building his first effects pedals in high school via a trial-and-error process of taking electronics apart and gobbling up whatever books he could find at libraries or via special orders. (“I was pretty isolated in Maine,” he points out. “Even music magazines—access to those was limited.”) Once he got more exposure to new music via college radio, he got into playing, and building, elements of rock music. “Once I started playing bass, I thought, I can build a bass.”

Listing image by Sam Machkovech

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FaceTime bug lets you listen in before a call starts

Engadget has confirmed that the technique works, and it should apply to any call started from an iOS device running IOS 12.1 or later. This also applies to calls made to Macs using Mojave.

We’ve asked Apple for comment. There’s a good possibility it can address this glitch through a software update in the near future, but it’s not a great look when the firm just used CES to troll Amazon and Google over their approaches to user privacy. Clearly, Apple isn’t completely immune to privacy issues — even if they’re the result of bugs rather than intentional policies.

Update 8:04PM ET: An Apple spokesperson tells Engadget that the company is “aware of the issue” and that a fix will arrive as a software update “later this week.” It’s a good thing, too, as a recipient who hits the power button to dismiss the call will send video.

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AR displays in self-driving cars could actually be cool

Uploads%252fvideo uploaders%252fdistribution thumb%252fimage%252f90333%252fd47b9e37 57b6 4b43 9f18 aca70b87d762.jpg%252foriginal.jpg?signature=zmtenev8v0jz1ycihjxz vkumre=&source=https%3a%2f%2fblueprint api production.s3.amazonaws

Kevin Urgiles

Swiss company WayRay is going full force into making AR fun in car displays. They even launched a neat AR Software Development Kit that people will be able to use to make applications for their displays. We’re hyped to see how things go!

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The Xiaomi M365 Scooter Can Be Hacked to Speed Up or Stop

The fleets of electric scooters that have inundated cities are alarming enough as is. Now add cybersercurity concerns to the list: Researchers from the mobile security firm Zimperium are warning that Xiaomi’s popular M365 scooter model has a worrying bug. The flaw could allow an attacker to remotely take over any of the scooters to control crucial things like, ahem, acceleration and braking.

Rani Idan, Zimperium’s director of software research, says he found and was able to exploit the flaw within hours of assessing the M365’s security. His analysis found that the scooters contain three software components: battery management, firmware that coordinates between hardware and software, and a Bluetooth module that lets users communicate with their scooter via a smartphone app. The latter leaves the devices woefully exposed.

Idan quickly found that he could connect to the scooter via Bluetooth without being asked to enter a password or otherwise authenticate. From there, he could go a step further and install firmware on the scooter without the system checking that this new software was an official, trusted Xiaomi update. This means that an attacker could easily put malware on a scooter, giving herself full command over it.

“I was able to control any of the scooter features without authentication and install malicious firmware,” Idan says. “An attacker could brake suddenly, or accelerate a person into traffic, or whatever the worst-case scenario you can imagine.”

Unfortunately, issues with Bluetooth implementation, especially weak or missing authentication mechanisms, are nothing new in internet-of-things devices. Similarly, “integrity checks” to confirm the authenticity and trustworthiness of software and firmware updates are often overlooked. But while they can lead to all sorts of real privacy and security risks in general, they are obviously especially problematic in devices that can endangers a user’s physical safety.

“I was able to control any of the scooter features without authentication.”

Rani Idan, Zimperium

Researchers found a similar set of flaws in Segway MiniPro hoverboards in 2017, but the company, which is owned by Chinese scooter-maker Ninebot, worked to fix the problems. Zimperium is concerned about what will happen with Idan’s findings, because when the company contacted Xiaomi to disclose the bugs, the scooter maker said it is aware of the problem and doesn’t have the ability to fix it on its own.

This is apparently because Xiaomi sources its Bluetooth implementation module from a third-party developer rather than coding it in-house. Xiaomi did not respond to multiple requests for comment from WIRED. But the company told Zimperium that “this is a known issue internally. The issue has been made public. Because it is a third-party cooperation product we are also trying to communicate solutions to each other.”

In the meantime, M365 scooters are vulnerable to an array of takeover attacks. The user app that connects to the scooters does offer the option to set a password for accessing individual devices. But when Idan created proof-of-concept Android and iOS apps to test the weaknesses, he found that the system doesn’t require outside Bluetooth connections to authenticate even once a password has been set up in the official app.

Zimperium is taking the perhaps controversial step of publishing the Android version of this proof of concept in an attempt to prove the problem’s urgency and warn as many people as possible. Zimperium chief technology officer John Michelsen argues that it is the only recourse security researchers have to motivate accountability in unresponsive IoT companies and electronics manufacturers in general.

Xiaomi M365 scooters are a popular consumer choice and have even been used by ride-sharing companies like Lyft and the scooter-specific service Bird. A customized version of the M365 was Bird’s first scooter model, but the company has begun phasing it out unrelated to this research.

“IoT devices are everywhere—in our personal space, holding our most sensitive data, and in our daily routines,” Idan says. “You would probably think those devices would implement the best security protections possible, but unfortunately that is not always the case.”

Given the potential risk to users, it’s crucial for Xiaomi to respond to the research and find a way to issue stronger Bluetooth protections. In the meantime, keep applying official updates and, as always, wear a helmet.


More Great WIRED Stories

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Native Instruments’ new keyboard controller is affordable and backpack-ready

As usual, hardware and software company Native Instruments has announced a slew of new products for this year’s NAMM show. Last year, the Berlin-based company focused on launching sample platform sounds.com and showing off pricier flagship products, but this year Native Instruments put shifted the spotlight to affordable versions of its tech. That includes, among other things, the new Komplete Kontrol M32 keyboard controller.

The Komplete Kontrol M32 carries many of the same visual hallmarks found in its more expensive counterparts in the A and S series, like the multi-functional push encoder and a small navigation screen, but it does strip a couple elements away. Instead of wheels for pitch and modulation, for example, there are touch strips instead. You also lose the semi-weighted keys.

But, priced at $129, it’s a competitive entry-level buy. Plus, it’s built a bit more rugged so it can withstand being toted around. When I held the device at Native Instruments’ booth, I was pleasantly surprised both at how incredibly light the M32 was and also its compactness. I could see myself carrying it around without feeling the effects of added weight through the day.


Image: Native Instruments

There are things you do get with the M32 — namely, bundled software and features to speed up your music making abilities. The Komplete Kontrol M32 includes Komplete instruments and effects, Komplete Kontrol software, MONARK synthesizer, and Maschine Essentials (Native Instruments’ production kit for making loops, beats, and melodies). On top of all that, you also get Ableton 10 Lite.

Additionally, sounds.com is integrated directly so you can browse and preview samples and loops without having to go to the website. There’s also smart play, a mode that lets you lock the keyboard to play only within a certain scale, or play chords and arpeggios with a single key.

All of this makes for a compelling entry-level product that still feels and looks as professional as Native Instruments’ more expensive options. See all of the keyboard’s features on Native Instruments’ website. The Komplete Kontrol M32 will be available March 6th and will cost $129.

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Elon Musk-backed AI Company Claims It Made a Text Generator That’s Too Dangerous to Release

Photo: Getty

Researchers at the non-profit AI research group OpenAI just wanted to train their new text generation software to predict the next word in a sentence. It blew away all of their expectations and was so good at mimicking writing by humans they’ve decided to pump the brakes on the research while they explore the damage it could do.

Elon Musk has been clear that he believes artificial intelligence is the “biggest existential threat” to humanity. Musk is one of the primary funders of OpenAI and though he has taken a backseat role at the organization, its researchers appear to share his concerns about opening a Pandora’s box of trouble. This week, OpenAI shared a paper covering their latest work on text generation technology but they’re deviating from their standard practice of releasing the full research to the public out of fear that it could be abused by bad actors. Rather than releasing the fully trained model, it’s releasing a smaller model for researchers to experiment with.

The researchers used 40GB of data pulled from 8 million web pages to train the GPT-2 software. That’s ten times the amount of data they used for the first iteration of GPT. The dataset was pulled together by trolling through Reddit and selecting links to articles that had more than three upvotes. When the training process was complete, they found that the software could be fed a small amount of text and convincingly continue writing at length based on the prompt. It has trouble with “highly technical or esoteric types of content” but when it comes to more conversational writing it generated “reasonable samples” 50 percent of the time.

In one example, the software was fed this paragraph:

In a shocking finding, scientist discovered a herd of unicorns living in a remote, previously unexplored valley, in the Andes Mountains. Even more surprising to the researchers was the fact that the unicorns spoke perfect English.

Based on those two sentences, it was able to continue writing this whimsical news story for another nine paragraphs in a fashion that could have believably been written by a human being. Here are the next few machine-paragraphs that were produced by the machine:

The scientist named the population, after their distinctive horn, Ovid’s Unicorn. These four-horned, silver-white unicorns were previously unknown to science.

Now, after almost two centuries, the mystery of what sparked this odd phenomenon is finally solved.

Dr. Jorge Pérez, an evolutionary biologist from the University of La Paz, and several companions, were exploring the Andes Mountains when they found a small valley, with no other animals or humans. Pérez noticed that the valley had what appeared to be a natural fountain, surrounded by two peaks of rock and silver snow.

GPT-2 is remarkably good at adapting to the style and content of the prompts it’s given. The Guardian was able to take the software for a spin and tried out the first line of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” The program picked up on the tone of the selection and proceeded with some dystopian science fiction of its own:

I was in my car on my way to a new job in Seattle. I put the gas in, put the key in, and then I let it run. I just imagined what the day would be like. A hundred years from now. In 2045, I was a teacher in some school in a poor part of rural China. I started with Chinese history and history of science.

The OpenAI researchers found that GPT-2 performed very well when it was given tasks that it wasn’t necessarily designed for, like translation and summarization. In their report, the researchers wrote that they simply had to prompt the trained model in the right way for it to perform these tasks at a level that was comparable to other models that are specialized. After analyzing a short story about an Olympic race, the software was able to correctly answer basic questions like “What was the length of the race?” and “Where did the race begin?”

These excellent results have freaked the researchers out. One concern they have is that the technology would be used to turbo-charge fake news operations. The Guardian published a fake news article written by the software along with its coverage of the research. The article is readable and contains fake quotes that are on topic and realistic. The grammar is better than a lot what you’d see from fake news content mills. And according to The Guardian’s Alex Hern, it only took 15 seconds for the bot to write the article.

Other concerns that the researchers listed as potentially abusive included automating phishing emails, impersonating others online, and self-generating harassment. But they also believe that there are plenty of beneficial applications to be discovered. For instance, it could be a powerful tool for developing better speech recognition programs or dialogue agents.

OpenAI plans to engage the AI community in a dialogue about their release strategy and hopes to explore potential ethical guidelines to direct this type of research in the future. They said they will have more to discuss in public in six months.

[OpenAI via The Guardian]

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Samsung’s Latest Tablet Is Really Damn Thin

Image: Samsung

When Samsung released the Galaxy Tab S4, I liked its blend of sleek design, long battery life, and Android-based OS supported by Samsung’s Dex desktop software. But its steep price and outdated specs made it impossible to love. That might change with the new Galaxy Tab S5e. Samsung streamlined its flagship tablet to create a new super thin all-rounder.

So what happened to the regular Galaxy Tab 5? No idea. But the “e” in S5e stands for “essential” which is supposed to indicate that a lot of extraneous features has been eliminated in favor of keeping things simple. (Side note: the S5e’s name adds even more credence to rumors that Samsung is making a third Galaxy S10 variant called the S10E.)

However, compared to the Galaxy Tab S4, the only major features the Tab S5e lacks are built-in stylus support and an iris scanner. What you do get is a Snapdragon 670 processor, a similar, if not the same 10.5-inch 2,560 by 1,600 super AMOLED touchscreen featured on Samsung’s flagship tablet, the same microSD slot, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, and even quad AKG speakers—all for just $400. That’s a full $250 less than the Galaxy Tab S4, and just $80 more than the 9.7-inch iPad which has only 32GB of storage and a 2,048 by 1,536 LED display. Not bad.

Then Samsung went and put all of this in a chassis that’s just 5.5mm thick. For comparison’s sake, a Galaxy S9+ is nearly 3mm thicker at 8.5mm. Meanwhile, a standard 9.7-inch iPad measures 7.5mm, while the somewhat bend-prone new iPad Pros come in at 5.9mm. Let’s just hope Samsung put a little more thought into the Tab S5e’s durability than Apple did for the iPad Pro.

Critically, the battery in the new Tab S5e is 7,040 mAh, which is less than five percent smaller than the 7,300 mAh battery in the Tab S4. And when you combine a battery that big with a less power-hungry processor, we could see battery life that’s just as good, or potentially even longer than the 13-hour runtime I saw on the Tab S4.

And in case you still want your tablet to double as a laptop, the Tab S5e includes Samsung’s Dex UI, which offers a more traditional desktop environment when needed. That said, for serious multi-taskers, Samsung maintains that the Snapdragon 835-powered Tab S4 is the better choice. You also need to shell out an extra $130 for the Tab S5e’s folding keyboard, since it doesn’t come included.

But for people who just want a thin slate for browsing the web and checking emails around the house, the $400 Galaxy Tab S5e seems like a solid Android-based upgrade for the four or five-year-old tablet you might have lying around already. It will also certainly be sleeker than the $330 iPad Apple offers, or any of the tablets in Amazon’s line up.

The Galaxy Tab S5e goes on sale for $400 starting sometime in Q2 in gold, black, and silver, with models featuring LTE connectivity available from carriers later in the year.

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This software will teach you how to type at over 100 WPM — and it just went on sale

Just to let you know, if you buy something featured here, Mashable might earn an affiliate commission.

Learn how to type super fast by using this specialized software.
Learn how to type super fast by using this specialized software.

Image: PEXELS

By TEAM COMMERCEMashable Deals

Typing was one of those things almost everyone learned in school — along with cursive and the names of all the state capitals. And just like your penmanship and your ability to pinpoint South Dakota’s seat of government — it’s Pierre, by the way — your typing skills probably aren’t what they used to be. 

And while the capacities to write in cursive and identify 50 cities aren’t all that relevant to most jobs, feel free to let both fall even more by the wayside. But typing? You *kind of* need to know how to do that well if you want to make a living in today’s job market. (It’s the Digital Age, baby!)

SEE ALSO: Best cheap laptops: 10 options for under $500

Enter: the Typesy Typing Trainer, an easy-to-use typing software that’s been engineered by experts to have you typing at over 100 WPM in no time. Once you become a subscriber, you’ll get access to 16 scientifically designed games and activities that are designed to eliminate specific weaknesses in the way you type and hone certain skills. You’ll also get typing instructions from a personal coach who will work with you throughout your typing journey, and receive an advanced typing certificate upon completion of said journey. 

Whether you want to qualify for more jobs or just work more efficiently, signing up for Typesy should be at the top of your to-do list. For the next few days, Mashable readers can score a lifetime subscription to its tips and training for only $19.99 — a 93% discount on the original retail price of $290.

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