As we head into the home stretch for the year—there are just three five-day workweeks left—there is still time for bold moves. For evidence, look to recent thunderbolts from a trio of tech titans: Bill Gates, Samsung, and Google.
Gates, the Microsoft founder who undoubtedly will best be remembered as a philanthropist, is launching a multi-billion-dollar clean-energy fund. He’ll time the announcement for this week’s climate-change talks in Paris in order to include commitments by several nations and other philanthropists. Gates knows that even his vast wealth isn’t enough to solve every problem. He isn’t the first to try to invest a cleaner planet, and in fact he has made energy investments before. Still, it’s impressive that being late to the game in the form of a comprehensive investing plan doesn’t bother him.
Samsung already has accomplished the improbable, rising within a generation from a run-of-the-mill Korean food-trading company to one of the world’s great technology conglomerates. Late last week, it announced a $740 million investment in its so-called biologics business, a contract manufacturer for global pharmaceutical makers. I visited Samsung’s drug-making business last summer as part of my reporting on Samsung’s de facto leader, Jay Y. Lee. Samsung’s audacious goal with its new business line is to reproduce its success with semiconductors in a completely different field that nevertheless shares certain characteristics with chipmaking. Samsung’s bet is that manufacturing prowess, scale, massive capital investment, and aggressive marketing can add up to another big win.
Google, too, is making a major commitment to a business it’s already in, cloud computing. The week before Thanksgiving it plucked from its own board the co-founder of VMware, Diane Greene, to run its cloud business. Google is a major presence in cloud services but a relative also-ran by reputation, compared with Amazon’s Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure offering. By buying Greene’s startup, which never publicly revealed its products or strategy, Google gets a seasoned technologist and business leader to fix that problem. (Greene once took me sailing in her trimaran on the San Francisco Bay; I described her company as the cultural anti-Google. Times change.)
May the balance of your 2015 be bold too.
BITS AND BYTES
Tech billionaires pool money for clean energy research. Bill Gates is behind the new Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a who’s-who group that includes Mark Benioff, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Masayoshi Son, Meg Whitman, and Mark Zuckerberg. The initiative will collaborate with Mission Innovation, a parallel public sector effort, to fund transformative energy technologies. (Washington Post)
Americans ditch the mall for Thanksgiving weekend shopping frenzy. An official early count from the National Retail Federation suggests more than 103 million Americans shopped e-commerce sites on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. That’s more than the 102 million who ventured out to “real” stores. It’s also more bad news for Neiman Marcus, which suffered two extensive Web sites outages over the weekend. (Fortune)
Take a gander at Amazon’s drone prototype. The e-commerce giant first acknowledged its plan to use unmanned aerial vehicles for package deliveries two years ago. The prototype, demonstrated in a video, travels a range of up to 15 miles. (Ars Technica)
Net neutrality soon gets day in court. On Dec. 4, an appeals court in Washington, D.C., will consider oral arguments in the telecommunications industry’s appeal of the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Critics argue that the law—which prevents service providers from prioritizing certain services—stifles innovation. The government says it’s necessary to encourage competition. (Wall Street Journal)
Atlassian IPO road show to begin this week. The software company, which specializes in project management and collaboration tools, now plans to raise between $330 million and $370 million, sources tell Fortune. Its initial prospectus set a placeholder amount of $250 million. Atlassian is unique among many recent tech IPO candidates for being profitable.(Fortune)
Toshiba may sell part of chip division. The company’s semiconductor business sells chips to Apple and other smartphone companies. It’s one of the company’s biggest money-makers, but Toshiba needs the cash to get beyond its $1.3 billion accounting scandal. (Wall Street Journal)
Google Glass may return as a monocle. The company went back to the drawing board with its smartglasses project last year, after a consumer push failed to gain momentum. Now, it is evaluating potential commercial applications. A new patent suggests that plan also includes new shapes. (Time)
Facebook expands parental leave benefits worldwide. As of Jan. 1, all employees—regardless of their location or their gender—will be entitled to up to four months paid time off during the first year of a child’s life. That’s generous compared to other big U.S. tech companies. CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to take half that time after his baby girl is born. (Reuters)
Why MakerBot and 3D Systems are losing the desktop 3D market
There’s the Lulzbot, BeeTheFirst, DeltaWasp, and the Ultimaker. You might not have heard of any of them, but collectively they’re crushing it in a desktop 3D-printing market traditionally dominated by brand-name rivals like MakerBot. Fortune contributor Andrew Zaleski reports on how expiring patents are helping these small 3D printer makers displace bigger, more moneyed rivals. (Fortune)
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ONE MORE THING
Lenovo gets its game on. The Chinese PC maker is teaming with Razer, a maker of gaming peripherals including keyboards and mice, on a series of products designed for gamers. (Verge)