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With $84 million of venture capital and a new Palo Alto office, the founders of Paris-based Blade are preparing to invade the U.S. market early in 2018.
Blade, which makes a cloud-based PC service called Shadow, is the latest French Tech hope to land on the shores of Silicon Valley. But its ambitions to transform how people buy and use computers goes far beyond, as it tries to outrun other competitors and make its mark with average users around the world.
“Our goal is to conquer the world and change the way people use computers for sure,” said Emmanuel Freund, cofounder and president of Blade. “Six months ago, everyone was saying it was not possible to do what we are doing. Now we’ve shown that the technology works, and everyone is watching. We’ve got to show the world that we can succeed.”
Blade believes that with Shadow, it has solved the puzzle of how to create a Windows-based personal computer system that isn’t directly tethered to a single piece of hardware. Instead, all the software sits on a Blade data center, and a user access all parts of this virtual PC via an app on a smartphone, tablet, television, laptop, or, yes, a PC. If needed, users can also buy a small, thin client from Blade to plug into a monitor that will access their Shadow service.
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At about $32 per month, the service is not cheap. The advantages in theory come in both convenience (accessing your entire computer anytime, anywhere) and over the long term. As technology advances, as new chips are released and new software is updated, all this can be integrated and deployed in the data centers. Users don’t need to buy a new computer every couple of years to remain on the cutting edge, Freund said.
The company was founded in 2015, and it managed to release the first limited version of the product in July 2016. For most of that time, Shadow has only been available in France, where the company had its first data center. It has been slowly taking on customers to help it test and develop the service.
To attract those initial users, the company positioned Shadow as a cloud-based gaming service. Freund said hardcore gamers would push the system to its limits.
“We decided to target the most demanding users, the gamers who are able to see any quality loss on any image, any latency,” he said. “If we can show them that what we’re doing is exactly the same as on the computer, we can show that this is working.”
Despite the focus on gaming, in fact, Shadow delivers a full Windows 10 PC via streaming to a device. Any software that works on Windows will work on Shadow. And given the positive reception from the gaming community, the company has been shifting gradually to highlight its utility as a virtual PC.
“Shadow is the equivalent to a high-end gaming computer,” Freund said. “And it will always be up to date.”
This progress has helped the company raise two rounds of venture capital, the latest a $57 million round last summer, to fuel its ambitions.
In a press conference in Paris today, the company detailed the next steps it’s taking to expand the service. The company will launch at the end of November in the U.K. and in Germany. But it has limited signups, creating a waiting list of more than 12,000 people. Today, the company said it began allowing anyone in the regions it serves to sign up immediately.
In addition, the service has been somewhat limited because it required that users have access to a fiber connection. But its new compression technology means that anyone with a basic DSL connection will be able to take advantage of the full service without latency issues, Freund said.
But most critically, the company is now bringing the service to the U.S. The company has opened an office and a data center in Palo Alto, where it now has four employees. It expects to launch the service to U.S. customers at the beginning of 2018.
Going forward, the company is focused on building out its data center capacity, hiring like mad, and trying to hit its goal of 100,000 users by the end of 2018.
At the same time, the company has started trying to imagine a world where people no longer need to regularly buy a PC. It has a small R&D lab trying to concoct experiments to see what new uses this would enable.
“It’s the perfect time to look at what the world will look like with only cloud computers,” Freund said. “We want to be creative and think about new possibilities.”
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