Having broken the ice around chat-enabled web search, Microsoft has extended the concept to coding, office productivity, and the operating system itself.
What’s new: Microsoft refreshed its Copilot line of chatbots, adding new features, renaming old ones, and unifying the brand into what it calls an “everyday AI companion.”
How it works: Microsoft offers Copilots for its subsidiary GitHub, Microsoft 365, and Windows.
- GitHub, maker of the original Copilot AI-driven pair programmer, extended the beta-test Copilot Chat feature, which enables users to converse about their code, from enterprise to individual users. Based on a version of GPT-3.5 optimized for code, the system works within Microsoft’s Visual Studio and VS Code applications as well as non-Microsoft development apps Vim, Neovim, and JetBrains. Copilot Chat answers questions, troubleshoots bugs, documents snippets, suggests fixes for security vulnerabilities, and teaches coders how to use unfamiliar languages.
- Microsoft 365 Copilot makes it possible to control Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Word, and other productivity apps via text prompts. For instance, in Word, it enables users to summarize documents; in Outlook, to draft emails. It will be available on November 1 to enterprise customers for $30 per user/month in addition to the price of Microsoft 365. The company has an invitation-only pilot program for individual and small business users.
- Windows Copilot is a taskbar chatbot powered by GPT-4. It can open applications, copy and paste among them, query Bing Chat, and integrate third-party plugins. It also provides image generation to media editors that come with Windows including Paint, Photos, and the video editor Clipchamp. Windows Copilot will be available to Windows 11 users as a free update starting September 26.
Behind the news: The emergence of ChatGPT set off a race between Microsoft and Alphabet to integrate large language models into search and beyond. Microsoft seized the day in early February when it launched a version of its Bing search engine that incorporated OpenAI’s technology, and its Copilot strategy has extended that lead. But Alphabet is nipping at Microsoft’s heels. It’s bringing its Bard chatbot to Google productivity apps, from email to spreadsheets.
Why it matters: The combination of large language models and productivity software is a significant step. Microsoft’s approach seems likely to inspire millions of people who have never written a macro or opened the command line to start prompting AI models.
We’re thinking: Copilot is a great concept. It helped make software engineers early adopters of large language models — for writing code, not prose.
This story first appeared in the September 27, 2023 edition of The Batch.