Microsoft’s Surface and AI Event: Copilot Ready For Take-off
Microsoft holds its big Surface event each autumn to showcase new hardware and drop other big announcements. This year was bigger than ever, with the company unveiling major AI news (and the odd laptop or two). Windows Copilot is set to take-off for free on September 26 — making Windows 11 the first OS to feature its own core AI app.
This year’s event was without the former head of Windows Client and Surface, Panos Panay, who declared his departure from the company only a few days earlier. The Seattle software giants did however reveal a pair of new slimline consumer laptops and — much more interestingly for us — a big dose of AI news and updates.
Remember Clippy, that little animated paperclip? Introduced in Office 1997, the user-friendly office assistant offered its cute scripted tips and shortcuts to Microsoft Office users everywhere. Until you turned it off.
Windows Copilot, from what we can gather, will function rather like a combo of Clippy and Cortana combined. Heralded as “your everyday AI companion,” Copilot will make Windows 11 the first PC platform to feature its own centralised AI helper.
Microsoft is pitching Copilot more as a replacement to Cortana, marking “a new era of AI” with advanced AI tech under the bonnet to help you get through your daily tasks even quicker and easier than before.
“We’re thrilled to introduce Windows Copilot. Windows is the first PC platform to provide centralized AI assistance for customers. Together, with Bing Chat and first- and third-party plugins, you can focus on bringing your ideas to life, completing complex projects and collaborating instead of spending energy finding, launching and working across multiple applications.”
Copilot can rewrite, summarise, and explain what’s on your screen and answer a range of questions, much like Cortana, except with much greater power to execute tasks, tweak settings, and link across preferred apps.
With ChatGPT and Bing plug-ins, Copilot brings more advanced AI capabilities to help users, marking a big step forward in AI-driven technology by Microsoft. Copilot will be able to answer on a diverse range of topics, simple or complex.
Copilot will be intuitive and easy to use, with its button clearly visible on the taskbar. You can bring up Copilot at any time by holding down the Windows key and the C key. The sidebar will remain in place across all apps, programs, and windows, ready to assist whenever needed, unless hidden or turned off.
For those not on Windows-based systems, Copilot is also set to come direct to Bing Search and the Edge web browser.
It’s early days, but it seems Copilot will also be able to extract context from user’s phones (with permission). At the Surface event, Microsoft demonstrated this feature using a scenario where a user forgets her flight details but remembers discussing them in a text message. She asks the chatbot within her OS, typing: “Please find my flight info” and it quickly retrieves the information from her connected phone.
Microsoft 365 Copilot
Your Copilot is also joining you in the cockpit of Microsoft 365. The suite will feature full Chat capability powered by generative AI, working together with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Teams, for greater productivity and creativity.
Everyday features such as copy/paste, Snap Assist, and the Snipping Tool, are getting their own AI twist. For instance: not only can you copy and paste, but you can also have Windows Copilot rewrite, summarise, or clarify your content.
Major corporations will be able to subscribe to Microsoft 365 Copilot from November 1st. This could all be a financial boon for Microsoft. It’s 365 software is a major revenue stream, with 382 million commercial seats reported in the fiscal third quarter alone. The enterprises that took part in Microsoft’s early access program will get first dibs, with the fee being $30 per person per month on top of Microsoft 365′s current costs.
DALLE-E for Bing Chat
DALL-E is an AI tool developed by OpenAI that can transform text prompts into images. Microsoft has announced that the latest version, DALL-E 3, is set to become a free feature of Bing Chat. Users will therefore be able to create images from text descriptions directly with Bing.
DALL-E 3 should be an improvement on its predecessor, DALL-E 2 (which was very prone to errors). The main update seems to be that users will be able to generate prompts without offering much on their end. That is to say, they can simply request the AI to create a more vivid prompt, instead. This is useful given that DALL-E 3 can create better results with longer, more detailed prompts.
Windows Ink Anywhere
Windows Ink Anywhere is another feature set to link seamlessly with Copilot. Microsoft’s Ink Anywhere is the latest version of Windows Ink, which debuted in Windows 10. The latest version gives users the ability to write directly into the edit fields within the operating system. For instance, if you have a Surface Laptop pen, you can just underline a problem on the screen, and Copilot will jump in to help you work it out.
News for Developers
To help developers work more efficiently on Windows, Microsoft is introducing Dev Home, a “new control centre for Windows providing the ability to track your workflows and coding tasks using customizable widgets.”
Created with developers in mind, Dev Home aims to improve workflow for software developers. It simplifies connecting to GitHub and setting up coding environments, allowing easy installation of necessary tools and packages, and can configure coding settings in the cloud with Microsoft Dev Box and GitHub Codespaces.The tool is set to boast WinGet configuration for swift setup, Dev Drive for improved filesystem performance, and a customizable dashboard to centralise workflow and task tracking.
Developers and creatives will find rich pickings for innovation. Data from GitHub suggests Copilot has a lot of potential. 88% of developers using GitHub Copilot report better productivity, 74% say that it helps them to concentrate on more pressing tasks, while 77% acknowledge that it helps cut the time spent searching for information or coding examples.
Microsoft has also announced Windows AI Library, a curated collection of ready-to-use machine learning models and APIs designed to accelerate AI development. Further details regarding availability and preview dates will be disclosed in the upcoming weeks.
Compare & Decide Ads
In separate news this week, Microsoft announced that it is planning to integrate generative AI into its advertising tools with Compare & Decide Ads. Again powered by generative AI, the feature represents perhaps the first example of Conversational Ads.
According to Kya Sainsbury-Carter, corporate VP for advertising at Microsoft: “we are creating new ad formats designed specifically for Chat called Conversational Ads and today, we are announcing the first of our Conversational Ad experiences.”
Focused on the user, it intends to help shoppers using Chat who ask to compare options, like different car models or other products, by showing them the pros and cons to help them make decisions. Compare & Decide Ads is expected to release as a closed beta in early 2024.
In 2019, Microsoft invested $1 billion in OpenAI and added another $10 billion in 2023 after the successful launch of ChatGPT. So, it makes sense that the big tech company from Redmond would want to show off unique features to stay ahead of other companies.
The introduction of user-focused ad formats like Compare & Decide Ads puts the spotlight on user interaction and meaningful content. This isn’t just refreshing the way we experience ads; it’s also creating fresh opportunities for advertisers, leading to a more interactive and lively ad scene.
The push for more conversational and comparison-based advertising highlights the changing demands of consumers and the ongoing work from big tech companies like Microsoft to address these demands in more exciting, dynamic ways.