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OpenAI buys developer collaboration tool Multi; promptly sunsets its product. What's the big idea?

Multi had recently touted the ability to "work in teammates’ apps like Xcode and Terminal as though they’re open on your computer"

A team collaboration software firm called Multi has given customers just four weeks to find alternatives after selling up to OpenAI – it is sunsetting its application and will delete all user data on July 24 it said this week. 

So why did OpenAI buy it?

Multi’s application was originally focused on short video calls. It pins co-workers’ profile pictures and status to a workspace taskbar on Mac desktops. It was popular with developers doing pair programming.

OpenAI buys Multi: What’s the big idea?

More recently it promoted Multi’s ability to “work in teammates’ apps like Xcode and Terminal as though they’re open on your computer… with magical details like separate cursor control” and appeared focused on automated application sharing on the desktop; potentially an avenue for OpenAI to embed on users’ PCs, rather than them making API calls to it.

The deal, not yet confirmed by OpenAI as The Stack published, but announced by Multi in its own blog, represents the LLM platform provider’s second buyout in a matter of days, sparking speculation about what its enterprise and desktop strategy are shaping up to look like.

The deal follows OpenAI’s buy-up of real-time analytics firm Rockset last week, when Brad Lightcap, OpenAI COO, said “Rockset’s infrastructure empowers companies to transform their data into actionable intelligence” and its "foundation" would be integrated into OpenAI products.

Startup spikes product as users moan

Multi was previously known as Remotion and backed to the tune of $13 million by VC firms including Greylock – which described it at the time as an “always-present but never distracting video workspace that puts your team visually on your desktop as a dock”. Customers include VMware.

Co-founder Alex Embiricos posted a cheerful blog titled “Multi is joining OpenAI” Users may be less excited: The deal means “we’re sunsetting Multi” he added. Active teams have until July 24 to wrap things up. 

However, Embiricos said customers could email him directly for advice on alternatives, or to arrange extensions on a "case by case" basis. The deal captures the dilemma facing customers enamoured by tech from early stage companies. Even if they're backed by  VC cash – around $13 million in Multi's case – startups are prone to pivots, sales, or closure. 

(Then again, the biggest firms are also unsentimental about pulling the plug on customers, and upset a lot more people in the process. Few, however, arguably do it with quite such brutally short notice.)

See also: No LLMs aren’t about to “autonomously” hack your company

Quite what OpenAI was seeking with the acquisition was not clear, but Multi gave some hints at its focus. Embiricos said he'd been considering the question, “What if desktop computers were inherently multiplayer? 

“What if the operating system placed people on equal footing to apps? We’ve been increasingly asking ourselves how we should work with computers. Not on or using computers, but truly with computers. With AI. We believe it’s one of the most important product questions of our time.”

“Our goal is for AI features in Multi to feel like they're provided by a proactive AI assistant that co-inhabits your workspace and leans on shared context” the firm’s CEO had earlier suggested. 

Principles included “make the AI feel like a teammate” and the idea of “No prompts. Instead, provide useful actions in context” he added.

X’s roster of experts speculated about what exactly Multi brings to OpenAI, with the idea of “ChatGPT being able to control your computer” being a recurring theme. Multi is very much a Mac-focused company, and the deal comes just weeks after OpenAI and Apple announced plans to “integrate ChatGPT into Apple experiences”. Having some inhouse expertise on collaborating in Mac-based environments may, presumably, come in handy over the coming months.