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Tearing down the walled gardens

Image: Alex Muravev / Protocol
Walled Gardens

Good morning! This Friday: tech is starting to bet on the browser again, Amazon's trying to redesign education, Apple has another lawsuit on its hands and every Airbnb employee had a seriously good day.

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The Big Story

Tech heads back to the browser

The Modern Computing Alliance's debut video and website are delightfully nonsensical. It's about creating standardized solutions, the next phase of modern computing, innovative vendors, interoperable platforms. OK then!

  • But if you get past the buzzwords there's a big statement being made here, by members from Slack to Zoom to Okta to Intel: that the web is the future. And, slightly more quietly, that Chrome and Chrome OS are the future of the web.
  • Google's John Solomon told Protocol's Tom Krazit that "If an enterprise decides that they want to use Chrome OS to modernize their endpoint computers, we want to make sure that the applications they run today run unbelievably well from a performance perspective, from a security perspective, [including] identity and infrastructure."

If you look past the Googliness of it, the MCA is really a bet on the open web. All these companies are pledging to build innovative apps that work in any browser, or at least any browser named Chrome.

  • The Alliance is particularly focused on IT tools, the kind of productivity and security stuff that tends to be both desktop-based and a gigantic pain to manage. By moving enterprise tools to the cloud, the alliance partners figure, they can change the way companies manage their tech.

The pro-browser push is partly a response to Apple and its control over the App Store, as well as an increasing wariness of betting on any company's platform. But there's also a case to be made that web apps just suit the future better.

  • Figma CEO Dylan Field made one of the best cases I've seen yet: "The browser is natively multiplayer. It forces a mindset shift on access. It strips away the need for expensive hardware. And it pushes us to embrace working together, especially when we are blocked and our default might be to hide."
  • See also: the fact that the best way to play Cyberpunk 2077 probably isn't on your console, but through Google Stadia. In a browser.

More Walled Gardens

A new fight over an old app store

Speaking of the fight over the App Store: Cydia, which was the iPhone's app store before the App Store, is suing Apple on antitrust grounds.

  • This suit is likely to become a referendum on the whole idea of jailbreaking, which Apple has made harder with practically every iOS release.
  • "Morally speaking, it's your phone and you should be able to do whatever you want with it," Cydia creator Jay Freeman told The Washington Post. "You should get to decide which applications you put on it, and you should be able to decide where you get those applications from."

It sounds a whole lot like Epic's case, doesn't it? But there's one big difference: Cydia was around before the App Store, which means it has pretty strong standing as a competitor that Apple snuffed out. Cydia may be less popular than Fortnite, but keep an eye on this case.

E-ducation

Amazon.edu

Anna Kramer writes: Forget college. Why not just get an Amazon education? The company announced a free cloud-computing training service yesterday, which it hopes will help 29 million workers develop the technical skills they need for cloud services jobs at companies that use AWS.

  • This is about AWS being able to sell more by meeting the technical need created by its products. Enterprise companies are less likely to invest in the full suite of AWS services if they can't find the talent to manage the transformation (and there's currently a huge shortage of people trained to do the work), so Amazon took it upon itself to change that.

But Amazon's making big bets everywhere in this space. The company is already spending $700 million to upskill more than 100,000 of its current employees. The company is growing so fast it has had to lower its talent standards just to fill open roles, one former Amazon employee told me.

  • For a sense of scale: There are currently more than 17,000 job openings with the word "engineer" and more than 4,300 job openings with the word "tech" on Amazon's hiring page.
  • If Amazon could help make sure people have the skills they need before their first day, it'd actually save the company a fortune in the long run.

Amazon isn't the first tech giant to get into re-skilling, and I'll bet my cookbook collection that it won't be the last.

  • Earlier this year, Microsoft launched a digital skills training for 25 million people globally, focused specifically on helping people meet the requirements of the highest-demand technical jobs, like software developers. Part of the initiative includes $15 certificate programs for Microsoft Azure cloud tools (strikingly similar to the new Amazon program), and the company hopes to directly hire some of the newly trained workers.
  • And in 2019, Google enrolled 75,000 students and partnered with 25 community colleges for a subsidized IT certificate program.

Experts and tech CEOs alike know that a college degree just isn't necessary for all, or even most, of the next generation of tech jobs. Very specific technological skills matter much more, and those can be taught at a much lower cost.

A MESSAGE FROM SYNCHRONY

SYNCHRONY

Contactless payments are no longer a nice to have.

At Synchrony, we understand the challenges of running a business. Our financial and technology solutions, like touchless payment tools, help you offer your customers more tailored experiences, so they keep coming back.

Learn more about our solutions.

Number of the Day

146

That's how many dollars you needed to buy a share of Airbnb when it opened yesterday. Somehow, this IPO managed to out-do even DoorDash: It was set at $68 a share on Wednesday, and Brian Chesky said when the company raised money earlier this year it did so at about $30 a share. It closed at $144.71, which makes Airbnb roughly an $86 billion company.

It's enough to leave any CEO speechless.

People Are Talking

On Protocol: Speaking of Airbnb, Nate Blecharczyk said it was hard to imagine this success just a few months ago:

  • "One of the hard things about the pandemic has been the fact that it wasn't obvious how long it would go on for and how severe the impact would be. So, in March and April, we were anticipating the worst. We had lost 80% of our revenue in two weeks. And we couldn't really confidently say when that was going to improve."

TikTok didn't come up in the antitrust suit against Facebook, but Adam Mosseri said he worries about it plenty:

  • "TikTok is an incredibly formidable competitor, probably the most formidable competitor we've ever seen. They are very focused, they're determined, they execute incredibly well."

Jason Kilar said nice things about Netflix, but said he and HBO Max still have one big advantage:

  • "We've produced more young adult great television series than anyone else in the industry. And historically, a lot of it was licensed to Netflix. And so a lot of the things that people know Netflix for in terms of young adult dramas actually are produced by Warner Brothers television."

In Other News

  • Germany's antitrust authorities are investigating Oculus and its Facebook account requirement. Meanwhile, Facebook employees told BuzzFeed News that the company may have a dangerously lax approach to ad moderation.
  • The FCC told all government-subsidized carriers to remove Huawei and ZTE equipment. It said it would reimburse them for the costs, as long as Congress approves the funding.
  • Watch out Qualcomm: Apple is reportedly making its own cellular modem. Around 11% of Qualcomm's revenue comes from Apple, so it's no surprise that its shares immediately plunged on the news.
  • On Protocol: Coupa could be the next Oracle. CEO Rob Bernshteyn said his company is the "holy grail of what SaaS is all about," and the competition is clearly worried.
  • Hyundai bought Boston Dynamics for $1.1 billion. SoftBank will keep a 20% stake in the company.
  • Uber drivers should have priority vaccine access, Dara Khosrowshahi told governors, arguing that they're essential workers. Meanwhile, Facebook will reportedly not require vaccines for employees returning to the office. Tim Cook told his employees they probably wouldn't be back before June.
  • MasterCard and Visa cut off Pornhub. That's despite the company's recent policy changes, which evidently didn't satisfy the two payment processors.
  • A company to watch: Humane, founded by ex-Applers Bethany Bongiorno and Imran Chaudhri, counts Ken Kocienda and Jeremy Werner as recent hires. What do they do? No, seriously, I'm asking. Please tell me what they're up to.

One More Thing

Time to upgrade your TV

What's that? You bought a new TV on Black Friday? Who cares: Time to get rid of it. Samsung's new 110-inch MicroLED set just launched (also known as the "smaller" one), and I can absolutely guarantee it looks better than the TCL you bought in November. This is the future of TV, and you can be the envy of all the people you're not allowed to have over by buying one. Yes, it costs just a smidge over $150,000, but seriously, your rewatch of "The Queen's Gambit" will be totally worth it.

A MESSAGE FROM SYNCHRONY

SYNCHRONY

Contactless payments are no longer a nice to have.

At Synchrony, we understand the challenges of running a business. Our financial and technology solutions, like touchless payment tools, help you offer your customers more tailored experiences, so they keep coming back.

Learn more about our solutions.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to david@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your weekend; see you Sunday.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Imran Chaudhri's name. This story was updated on Dec. 11, 2020.

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