Coding Assistance Start to Finish GitHub previews Copilot Workspace for end-to-end software development

May 8, 2024
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2 min read
GitHub Copilot Workspace preview

GitHub Copilot’s latest features are designed to help manage software development from plan to pull request. 

What’s new: GitHub unveiled a preview of Copilot Workspace, a generative development environment that’s designed to encompass entire projects. Users can sign up for a waitlist to gain access to Workspace until the preview ends. Afterward, Copilot Workspace will be available to subscribers to GitHub Copilot (which starts at $10 per month for individuals and $19 per month for businesses).

How it works: Copilot Workspace is based on GPT-4 Turbo and integrated with GitHub code repositories and libraries. Where GitHub Copilot previously generated code snippets and provided suggestions for editing code segments, Copilot Workspace integrates these tasks within a larger plan. 

  • Users begin by providing a known bug, feature request, or codebase and then prompting the system. For instance, a user can provide code for a simple Pong-style video game and request a feature, such as an automated opponent to play against.
  • Given the request, the system determines the current state of the codebase, then proposes goals the code will meet once the new feature has been implemented. For example, the system might propose, “the computer controls the left paddle automatically, allowing for a single-player game against the computer” and “the game mechanics and logic for the computer’s movement have been added to index.jsx.”
  • The goals function as a new prompt, spurring the system to plan intermediate steps to reach them. For instance, the revised plan might include, “add computer player logic for paddle 1 that blocks the ball 95% of the time” and “remove logic for player control of paddle 1.” 
  • Users can edit all of this before telling the system to carry out the plan. Afterward, the resulting code can be edited, previewed, shared, and subjected to new tests. 
  • Once the code has passed the tests, users can upload it directly to GitHub as a pull request or fork in the code repository or library.

Yes, but: Initial users noted that Copilot Workspace is best at solving straightforward, well defined problems and struggles with more complex ones. Choices can be difficult to unwind later on, and the system is slower than simpler AI coding assistants. 

Behind the news: Generative coding assistants quickly have become central tools for software development. Copilot has attracted 1.3 million paid subscribers as of April 2024, including 50,000 businesses. Amazon’s Q Developer (formerly CodeWhisperer), Google’s Gemini Code Assist (formerly Duet AI), and Cursor offer coding companions that integrate with or fork popular integrated development environments like Microsoft’s VSCode. On the frontier are agentic tools that plan and carry out complex, multi-step coding tasks.

Why it matters: Copilot Workspace attempts to extend Copilot’s code-completion and chat capabilities to a wider swath of the software development cycle. Simpler coding assistants have been shown to boost productivity markedly. Bringing natural-language prompting to tasks like planning, testing, and reading documentation is a natural step.

We’re thinking: There are many ways to use AI in coding. To learn about a few more, check out our short course, “Pair Programming With a Large Language Model,” taught by Google AI advocate Laurence Moroney.


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