Sep
16
2020
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User-generated e-learning site Kahoot acquires Actimo for up to $33M to double down on corporate sector

Norwegian company Kahoot originally made its name with a platform that lets educators and students create and share game-based online learning lessons, in the process building up a huge public catalogue of gamified lessons created by its community. Today the startup — now valued at more than $2 billion — is announcing an acquisition to give a boost to another segment of its business: corporate customers.

Kahoot has acquired Danish startup Actimo, which provides a platform for businesses to train and engage with employees. Kahoot said that the purchase is being made with a combination of cash and shares, and works out to a total enterprise value of between $26 million and $33 million for the smaller company, with the sale expected to be completed in October 2020.

It may sound like a modest sum in a tech market where companies are currently and regularly seeing paper valuations in the hundreds of millions at Series A stage, but it also presents a different kind of trajectory both for founders and their investors.

This is actually a strong exit for Actimo, which had raised less than $500,000, according to data from PitchBook. And it puts Actimo under the wing of a company that has been scaling globally fast, finding — like others in the areas of online education and remote working — that the current state of social distancing due to COVID-19 is resulting in a boost to its business.

To give you an idea of the scale and growth of Kahoot, the company says that currently it has over 1 billion “participating players,” on top of some 4.4 billion users in aggregate since first launching the platform in 2013. In the last 12 months, some 200 million games have been played on its platform. In June, when Kahoot announced that it had raised $28 million in funding, it told us that 100 million games had been played.

In light of its growth and the future opportunity — even putting aside the progression of the coronavirus, it looks like remote work and remote learning will at least become a lot more common as a longer-term option — the company has also seen a rise in its valuation. With some of its shares traded on the Merkur Market in Norway, the company currently has a market cap of 18.716 billion Norwegian Krone, which at today’s rates is about $2.08 billion. That figure was $1.4 billion in June.

Kahoot’s targeting of the corporate sector is not new. The company has been building a business in this space for years. It says that in the last 12 months, it logged 2 million sessions across 20 million participating “players” of its corporate training “games,” with some 97% of the Fortune 500 among those users. Customers include the likes of Facebook (for sales training), Oyo (hospitality training and onboarding) and Qualys (for taking polls during a conference), among others.

Critically, while a lot of Kahoot’s audience is in education, it’s corporate that most of the revenues come in —  one reason why it’s keen to grow that segment with more services and users.

The aim with Actimo, Kahoot says, is to build out a product set aimed at helping organisations with company culture — which, with many organisations now going on eight months and counting of entire teams working regularly outside of their physical offices, has grown as a priority.

Keeping a team feeling like a team, and an individual feeling more than a transactional regard for an employer, is not a simple thing in the best of times. Now, as we continue to work physically away from each other, it will take even more tools and efforts to get the balance right.

In that context, Actimo’s solution is just one aspect, but potentially an interesting one: it has built a platform where employees can track the training that they have done or need to do, engage with other co-workers, and provide feedback, and employers can use it to generally track and encourage how employees are engaging across the company and its various efforts. It counts some 200 enterprises, including Circle K, Hi3G and Compass Group, among its customers, and has current ARR of $5 million.

For comparison, Kahoot, in its Q2 financials published in August, reported ARR of $25 million, with invoiced revenue for the quarter at $9.6 million, growing some 317% on the same quarter a year before. The company has also raised some $110 million in private funding from the likes of Microsoft and Disney.

As Kahoot looks to find more than just a transient place in a company’s IT and software fabric — transience of attention always being a risk with anything gaming-based — it makes a lot of sense to pick up Actimo and work on ways of coupling the platform with its other corporate work. You can also imagine a time when it might create a similar kind of dashboard for the educational sector.

“We are excited to welcome the Actimo team to be part of the fast-growing Kahoot! family,” said Kahoot CEO, Eilert Hanoa, in a statement. “This acquisition will further extend Kahoot!’s corporate learning offerings, by providing solutions tailored for the frontline segment, as well as to solidify company culture and engagement among remote and distributed teams in companies of all types and sizes. This continues our expressed ambition to also grow through M&A by adding strategic capabilities that we can leverage across our global platform.”

“We are thrilled to join forces with Kahoot! in our mission to develop next-level solutions that connect remote employees and boost employee engagement and productivity,” said Eske Gunge, CEO at Actimo, in a statement. “Being part of Kahoot! and with our experience from working with innovative and ambitious enterprises across industries, we can together set a new standard for corporate learning and engagement.”

Sep
09
2020
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Socialbakers acquired by customer engagement company Astute

Astute, a customer engagement platform headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, is announcing that it has acquired social media marketing company Socialbakers.

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Socialbakers CEO Yuval Ben-Itzhak will become president of Socialbakers for the combined company, and he told me via email that the entire Socialbakers team will be joining as well, resulting in a combined organization with more than 600 employees and $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

Socialbakers was one of the last independent players from the first wave of social analytics. Founded in 2008 and based in Prague, the company raised a total of $34 million in funding, according to Crunchbase, from investors including Earlybird Venture Capital and Index Ventures. And it’s used by more than 2,500 brands globally.

Astute, meanwhile, has been around for 25 years, and focuses on unifying customer data. Ben-Itzhak said that by acquiring Socialbakers, Astute will be able to add social media-focused features like audience insights, content planning, influencer marketing and ad analytics.

“Socialbakers and Astute are already sharing dozens of mutual brand customers in the enterprise segment,” he said. “This is, in fact, how the acquisition talks came about. The platform integration process has already started and is expected to continue through Q4.”

In a statement, Astute CEO Mark Zablan also emphasized the comprehensiveness of the resulting platform.

“The lines between customer care, customer experience, and marketing have become increasingly blurred, presenting real challenges for companies,” Zablan said. “Combining the market-leading social media marketing capabilities of Socialbakers with Astute’s engagement suite not only helps our customers tackle this challenge more effectively, but also marks a major milestone along Astute’s journey towards becoming the end-to-end customer engagement platform that the Chief Customer Officer needs to succeed.”

Sep
08
2020
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Progress snags software automation platform Chef for $220M

Progress, a Boston-area developer tool company, boosted its offerings in a big way today when it announced it was acquiring software automation platform Chef for $220 million.

Chef, which went 100% open source last year, had annual recurring revenue (ARR) of $70 million from the commercial side of the house. Needless to say, Progress CEO Yogesh Gupta was happy to bring the company into the fold and gain not only that revenue, but a set of highly skilled employees, a strong developer community and an impressive customer list.

Gupta said that Chef fits with his company’s acquisition philosophy. “This acquisition perfectly aligns with our growth strategy and meets the requirements that we’ve previously laid out: a strong recurring revenue model, technology that complements our business, a loyal customer base and the ability to leverage our operating model and infrastructure to run the business more efficiently,” he said in a statement.

Chef CEO Barry Crist offered a typical argument for an acquired company; that Progress offered a better path to future growth, while sending a message to the open-source community and customers that Progress would be a good steward of the startup’s vision.

“For Chef, this acquisition is our next chapter, and Progress will help enhance our growth potential, support our Open Source vision, and provide broader opportunities for our customers, partners, employees and community,” Crist said in a statement.

Chef’s customer list is certainly impressive, and includes tech industry stalwarts like Facebook, IBM and SAP, as well as non-tech companies like Nordstrom, Alaska Airlines and Capital One.

The company was founded in 2008 and had raised $105 million, according to Crunchbase data. It hadn’t raised any funds since 2015, when it raised a $40 million Series E led by DFJ Growth. Other investors along the way included Battery Ventures, Ignition Partners and Scale Venture Partners.

The transaction is expected to close next month, pending normal regulatory approvals.

Sep
03
2020
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Optimizely acquired by content management company Episerver

Episerver is announcing that it has reached an agreement to acquire Optimizely for an undisclosed sum.

Optimizely was founded in 2009 by Dan Siroker and Pete Koomen. It became synonymous with A/B testing, subsequently building a broader suite of tools for marketers to experiment with and personalize their websites and apps, with more than 1,000 customers, including Gap, StubHub, IBM and The Wall Street Journal.

The company had raised more than $200 million in funding from Goldman Sachs, Index Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, GV and others. Earlier this year, it laid off 15% of its staff, citing the impact of COVID-19.

Episerver, meanwhile, was founded in Stockholm back in 1994 and offers tools for marketers to manage their digital content. Accel-KKR  sold the company to Insight Partners for $1.1 billion in 2018. (Today’s announcement describes Insight as a “strategic advisor and sponsor” in the acquisition.)

In a statement, Episerver CEO Alex Atzberger said this is “the most significant transformation in our company’s history – one that will set a new industry standard for digital experience platforms.” It sounds like the idea is to extend Episerver’s capabilities around content and commerce with Optimizely’s experimentation tools.

“The breakthrough combination of Episerver and Optimizely will transform digital experience creation and optimization, enabling digital teams to replace guesswork with evidence-based outcomes,” Atzberger said. “This, along with our shared mission to empower growing companies to compete digitally, makes me thrilled to welcome the Optimizely team to Episerver, as we prove there are no extraordinary experiences without experimentation.”

A company spokesperson said the deal is for a mix of cash and stock. The acquisition is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year, with the companies remaining fully staffed and independent until then.

“Winning in today’s digital world requires delivering the best and most personalized digital experiences,” said Jay Larson, who replaced Siroker as Optimizely CEO in 2017, in a statement. “Episerver and Optimizely have a shared vision to optimize every customer touchpoint through the use of experimentation. Together, we will enable our customers to do more testing, in more places, with greater ease than ever before.”

Sep
01
2020
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Fresh off $200M Series D, Gong acquires early-stage startup Vayo

Gong announced a $200 million Series D investment just last month, and loaded with fresh cash, the company wasted no time taking advantage. Today, it announced it was buying early-stage Isreali sales technology startup Vayo. The companies did not share terms of the deal, but Gong CEO Amit Bendov said the deal closed a couple of weeks ago.

The two companies match up quite well from a tech standpoint. While Gong searches unstructured data like emails and phone call transcripts and finds nuggets of data, Vayo looks at structured data, which is essentially the output of the Gong search process. What’s more, it handles large amounts of data at scale.

“Vayo helps find customer interactions at a large scale to identify trends like customers likely to churn or usage is going up, or your deals are starting to slow down — and they do this for structured data at scale,” Bendov told TechCrunch.

He said this ability to identify trends was really what attracted him to the company, even though it was still at an early stage of development. “It’s a perfect fit for Gong. We take unstructured data — emails, audio calls video calls — and extract insights. Customers, especially with a large organization, don’t want to see individual interactions but high order insights […] and they’ve developed [a solution] to identify trends on large data volumes for customer interactions,” he said.

Vayo was founded in 2018 and raised $1.7 million in seed capital, according to Crunchbase. Joining forces with Gong gives them an opportunity to develop the technology inside a company that’s growing quickly and is extremely well capitalized, having raised more than $300 million in the last 18 months.

Avshi Avital, CEO at Vayo, who has joined Gong with his four fellow employees, gave a familiar argument for selling the company. “With Gong we found the perfect partner to realize this mission faster and maximize the impact of the technology we built given the scale of their customer base and growth potential,” he said.

The plan is to fold the Vayo tech into the Gong platform, a process that will take three to six months, according to Bendov.

Aug
26
2020
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Cisco acquiring BabbleLabs to filter out the lawn mower screeching during your video conference

We’ve all been in a video conference, especially this year, when the neighbor started mowing the lawn or kids were playing outside your window — and it can get pretty loud. Cisco, which owns the WebEx video conferencing service, wants to do something about that, and late yesterday it announced it was going to acquire BabbleLabs, a startup that can help filter out background noise.

BabbleLabs has a very particular set of skills. It uses artificial intelligence to enhance the speaking voice, while filtering out those unwanted background noises that seem to occur whenever you happen to be in a meeting.

Interestingly enough, Cisco also sees this as a kind of privacy play by removing background conversation. Jeetu Patel, senior vice president and general manager in the Cisco Security and Applications Business Unit, says that this should go a long way toward improving the meeting experience for Cisco users.

“Their technology is going to provide our customers with yet another important innovation — automatically removing unwanted noise — to continue enabling exceptional Webex meeting experiences,” Patel, who was at Box for many years before joining Cisco, recently said in a statement.

In a blog post, BabbleLabs CEO and co-founder Chris Rowen wrote that conversations about being acquired by Cisco began just recently, and the deal came together pretty quickly. “We quickly reached a common view that merging BabbleLabs into the Cisco Collaboration team could accelerate our common vision dramatically,” he wrote.

BabbleLabs, which launched three years ago and raised $18 million, according to Crunchbase, had an interesting, but highly technical idea. That can sometimes be difficult to translate into a viable commercial product, but makes a highly attractive acquisition target for a company like Cisco.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says this acquisition could be seen as part of a broader industry consolidation. “We’re seeing consolidation taking place as the big web conferencing players are snapping up smaller players to round out their platforms,” he said.

He added, “WebEx may not be getting the attention that Zoom is, but it still has a significant presence in the enterprise, and this acquisition will allow them to keep improving their offering.”

The deal is expected to close in the current quarter after regulatory approval. Upon closing, BabbleLabs employees will become part of Cisco’s Collaboration Group.

Aug
24
2020
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Palo Alto Networks to buy digital forensics consulting firm for $265M

It’s been quite a day in the tech world, with a bushel of S-1s being filed to go public. Not to be left out, the ever acquisitive Palo Alto Networks announced its intent to acquire The Crypsis Group, an incident response, risk management and digital forensics consulting firm, for a crisp $265 million.

Nikesh Arora, chairman and CEO at Palo Alto Networks, sees a company that builds on the foundation of services the cybersecurity giant already provides, giving customers a set of services to lean on when a breach happens.

“By joining forces, we will be able to help customers not only predict and prevent cyberattacks but also mitigate the impact of any breach they may face,” he said. While the kinds of tools that Palo Alto provides are designed to prevent attacks, the fact is no set of tools is foolproof, and it’s always going to be a cat and mouse game between companies like Palo Alto and the attackers trying to breach their defenses.

Crypsis can help figure out how a breach happened and ways to close up the cracks in the foundation to prevent access through that particular weak point in the future. “We have dedicated ourselves to creating a more secure world through the fight against cybercrime. Together with Palo Alto Networks, we will be able to help businesses and governments better respond to threat actors on a global scale,” Bret Padres, CEO of The Crypsis Group said in a statement.

When the deal closes, and The Crypsis Group is in the fold, Palo Alto will gain more than 150 highly trained consultants, who have been handling approximately 1,300 incidents a year. This gives Palo Alto some serious consulting fire power to deal with those times when attackers get through their defenses.

The Crypsis Group has up until now been part of a larger security consultancy called ZP Group. The deal is expected to close in the fiscal first quarter of 2021, which just started when Q42020 closed today. Per usual, the acquisition will be subject to regulatory scrutiny, as Palo Alto is a public company.

Aug
19
2020
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Just what would an enterprise company like Microsoft or Oracle do with TikTok?

By now you’ve probably heard that under pressure from the current administration, TikTok owner ByteDance is putting the viral video service up for sale, and surprisingly a couple of big name enterprise companies are interested. These organizations are better known for the kind of tech that would bore the average TikTok user to tears. Yet, stories have persisted that Microsoft and even Oracle are sniffing around the video social network.

As TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton pointed out last week, bankers involved in the sale have a lot of motivation to leak rumors to the press to drive up the price of TikTok. That means none of this might be true, yet the rumors aren’t going away. It begs the question: Why would a company like Oracle or Microsoft be interested in a property like TikTok?

For starters, Oracle is a lot more than the database company it was known for in the past. These days, it has its fingers in many, many pies, including marketing automation and cloud infrastructure services. In April, as the pandemic was just beginning to heat up, Zoom surprised just about everyone when it announced a partnership with Oracle’s cloud arm.

Oracle isn’t really even on the board when it comes to cloud infrastructure market share, where it is well behind rivals AWS, Microsoft, Google, Alibaba and IBM, wallowing somewhere in single-digit market share. Oracle wants to be a bigger player.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has successfully transitioned to the cloud as well as any company, but still remains far behind AWS in the cloud infrastructure market. It wants to close the gap with AWS, and owning TikTok could get it closer to that goal faster.

Simply put, says Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, if Oracle combined Zoom and TikTok, it could have itself a couple of nice anchor clients. Yes, like the proverbial mall trying to attract Target and Nordstrom, apparently Oracle wants to do the same with its cloud service, and if it has to buy the tenant, so be it.

“TikTok will add plenty of load to their infrastructure service. That’s what matters to them with viral loads preferred. If Microsoft gets TikTok it could boost their usage by between 2% and 5%, while for Oracle it could be as much 10%,” he said. He says the difference is that Oracle has a much smaller user base now, so it would relatively boost its usage all the more.

As Mueller points out, with the government helping push TikTok’s owner to make the sale, it’s a huge opportunity for a company like Oracle or Microsoft, and why the rumors have weight. “It’s very plausible from a cloud business perspective, and plausible from a business opportunity perspective created by the U.S. government,” he said.

While it could make sense to attract a large user base to your systems to drive up usage and market share in that way, Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that just by having a large U.S. tech company buy the video app could make it less attractive to the very users Microsoft or Oracle is hoping to capture.

“An old-guard enterprise tech company buying Tiktok would likely lessen the appeal of current users. Younger people are already leaving Facebook because the old folks have taken it over,” Leary said. And that could mean young users, who are boosting the platform’s stats today, could jump ship to whatever is the next big social phenomenon.

It’s worth pointing out that just today, the president indicated support for Oracle, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The publication also reported that Oracle’s billionaire owner Larry Ellison is a big supporter of the president, having thrown him a fundraiser for his reelection bid at his house earlier this year. Oracle CEO Safra Catz also has ties to the administration, having served on the transition team in 2016.

It’s unclear whether these companies have a genuine interest, but the general feeling is someone is going to buy the service, and whoever does could get a big boost in users simply by using some percentage of their cash hordes to get there. By the way, another company with reported interest is Twitter. Certainly putting the two social platforms together could create a mega platform to compete more directly with Facebook.

You might see other big names trying to boost cloud infrastructure usage, like IBM or Google, enter the fray.  Perhaps even Amazon could make an offer to cement its lead, although if the deal has to go through the federal government, that makes it less likely, given the tense relationship between Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the president that surfaced during the Pentagon JEDI cloud contract drama.

Apple has already indicated that in spite of having the largest cash on hand of any company, with over $193 billion, give or take, it apparently isn’t interested. Apple may not be, but somebody surely is, even some companies you couldn’t imagine owning a property like this.

Aug
19
2020
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A pandemic and recession won’t stop Atlassian’s SaaS push

No company is completely insulated from the macroeconomic fallout of COVID-19, but we are seeing some companies fare better than others, especially those providing ways to collaborate online. Count Atlassian in that camp, as it provides a suite of tools focused on working smarter in a digital context.

At a time when many employees are working from home, Atlassian’s product approach sounds like a recipe for a smash hit. But in its latest earnings report, the company detailed slowing growth, not the acceleration we might expect. Looking ahead, it’s predicting more of the same — at least for the short term.

Part of the reason for that — beyond some small-business customers, hit by hard times, moving to its new free tier introduced last March — is the pain associated with moving customers off of older license revenue to more predictable subscription revenue. The company has shown that it is willing to sacrifice short-term growth to accelerate that transition.

We sat down with Atlassian CRO Cameron Deatsch to talk about some of the challenges his company is facing as it navigates through these crazy times. Deatsch pointed out that in spite of the turbulence, and the push to subscriptions, Atlassian is well-positioned with plenty of cash on hand and the ability to make strategic acquisitions when needed, while continuing to expand the recurring-revenue slice of its revenue pie.

The COVID-19 effect

Deatsch told us that Atlassian could not fully escape the pandemic’s impact on business, especially in April and May when many companies felt it. His company saw the biggest impact from smaller businesses, which cut back, moved to a free tier, or in some cases closed their doors. There was no getting away from the market chop that SMBs took during the early stages of COVID, and he said it had an impact on Atlassian’s new customer numbers.

Atlassian Q4FY2020 customer growth graph

Image Credits: Atlassian

Still, the company believes it will recover from the slow down in new customers, especially as it begins to convert a percentage of its new, free-tier users to paid users down the road. For this quarter it only translated into around 3000 new customers, but Deatsch didn’t seem concerned. “The customer numbers were off, but the overall financials were pretty strong coming out of [fiscal] Q4 if you looked at it. But also the number of people who are trying our products now because of the free tier is way up. We saw a step change when we launched free,” he said.

Aug
13
2020
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Mirantis acquires Lens, an IDE for Kubernetes

Mirantis, the company that recently bought Docker’s enterprise business, today announced that it has acquired Lens, a desktop application that the team describes as a Kubernetes-integrated development environment. Mirantis previously acquired the team behind the Finnish startup Kontena, the company that originally developed Lens.

Lens itself was most recently owned by Lakend Labs, though, which describes itself as “a collective of cloud native compute geeks and technologists” that is “committed to preserving and making available the open-source software and products of Kontena.” Lakend open-sourced Lens a few months ago.

Image Credits: Mirantis

“The mission of Mirantis is very simple: We want to be — for the enterprise — the fastest way to [build] modern apps at scale,” Mirantis CEO Adrian Ionel told me. “We believe that enterprises are constantly undergoing this cycle of modernizing the way they build applications from one wave to the next — and we want to provide products to the enterprise that help them make that happen.”

Right now, that means a focus on helping enterprises build cloud-native applications at scale and, almost by default, that means providing these companies with all kinds of container infrastructure services.

“But there is another piece of the story that’s always been going through our minds, which is, how do we become more developer-centric and developer-focused, because, as we’ve all seen in the past 10 years, developers have become more and more in charge off what services and infrastructure they’re actually using,” Ionel explained. And that’s where the Kontena and Lens acquisitions fit in. Managing Kubernetes clusters, after all, isn’t trivial — yet now developers are often tasked with managing and monitoring how their applications interact with their company’s infrastructure.

“Lens makes it dramatically easier for developers to work with Kubernetes, to build and deploy their applications on Kubernetes, and it’s just a huge obstacle-remover for people who are turned off by the complexity of Kubernetes to get more value,” he added.

“I’m very excited to see that we found a common vision with Adrian for how to incorporate Lens and how to make life for developers more enjoyable in this cloud-native technology landscape,” Miska Kaipiainen, the former CEO of Kontena and now Mirantis’ director of Engineering, told me.

He describes Lens as an IDE for Kubernetes. While you could obviously replicate Lens’ functionality with existing tools, Kaipiainen argues that it would take 20 different tools to do this. “One of them could be for monitoring, another could be for logs. A third one is for command-line configuration, and so forth and so forth,” he said. “What we have been trying to do with Lens is that we are bringing all these technologies [together] and provide one single, unified, easy to use interface for developers, so they can keep working on their workloads and on their clusters, without ever losing focus and the context of what they are working on.”

Among other things, Lens includes a context-aware terminal, multi-cluster management capabilities that work across clouds and support for the open-source Prometheus monitoring service.

For Mirantis, Lens is a very strategic investment and the company will continue to develop the service. Indeed, Ionel said the Lens team now basically has unlimited resources.

Looking ahead, Kaipiainen said the team is looking at adding extensions to Lens through an API within the next couple of months. “Through this extension API, we are actually able to collaborate and work more closely with other technology vendors within the cloud technology landscape so they can start plugging directly into the Lens UI and visualize the data coming from their components, so that will make it very powerful.”

Ionel also added that the company is working on adding more features for larger software teams to Lens, which is currently a single-user product. A lot of users are already using Lens in the context of very large development teams, after all.

While the core Lens tools will remain free and open source, Mirantis will likely charge for some new features that require a centralized service for managing them. What exactly that will look like remains to be seen, though.

If you want to give Lens a try, you can download the Windows, macOS and Linux binaries here.

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