The AI future of Windows is here (next week)

The future of Windows AI. That’s what we’ve been hearing, and now Microsoft has shown us exactly what that looks like. If the future of Windows is AI, that’s because it’s like any other Microsoft product — the future of every Microsoft product involves AI and a Copilot.

That’s the vision. AI everywhere. But the AI is your copilot, both figuratively and literally. Microsoft’s message is that there is one Copilot, and it will integrate into every Microsoft product — including Windows. But Copilot isn’t where the AI features end.

Here’s what I learned at Microsoft’s big event in New York City on Thursday. (For full disclosure: Microsoft provided a Lyft to the event from my hotel, coffee, and a light lunch. The coffee was fine.)

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A Copilot for Windows and Beyond

Microsoft’s Windows Copilot was the big deal in terms of Windows. But it’s not alone. Microsoft’s major announcement was Copilot itself, complete with a friendly and approachable new logo.

“We believe Copilot will fundamentally transform our relationship with personal computing,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

That’s a big rebranding that will extend to Bing Chat — and even that Bing Chat icon in Edge is becoming a Copilot icon, with Bing Chat.

Microsoft says Copilot is one experience that extends everywhere into its various apps, but Copilot will also be its own app. Technically, of course, that isn’t exactly true — Microsoft 365 Copilot, for Office apps, is really a whole different thing and won’t even be available to consumers until next year. But this week, Microsoft shifted from talking about a variety of different Copilots in its apps to talking about one Copilot experience.

Windows Copilot, Coming Soon

Starting Sept. 26, Microsoft will begin rolling out an update for Windows 11 that puts a Windows Copilot preview icon on your taskbar, to the right of the search box. The Windows+C keyboard keyboard shortcut will launch it. (Funny, that was Cortana’s keyboard shortcut.)

We’ve already seen quite a bit about Windows Copilot, so I knew what to expect.

Windows Copilot is like having a Bing Chat panel that pops up in a sidebar on your PC instead of just in your web browser. But it’s more powerful. You can ask it anything you can ask Bing Chat, but it can also integrate with your PC. You can ask Copilot to change Windows to dark mode, for example, or to rearrange your windows with Snap.

When you copy some text with the sidebar open, you can choose to send it to Copilot to work with it. You can provide it with images and other files from your PC.

Windows Copilot supports a system of plugins to interact with other apps and services. Microsoft showed off a sizzle reel of upcoming Windows 11 features where someone asks Copilot to start playing a song in Spotify and it starts playing in the Spotify app on Windows 11, for example. But Microsoft didn’t talk much about third-party integrations this week. That developer story is likely coming in future developer-focused events.

Again, this feature will start arriving on Windows 11 PCs in preview form in the coming days. It’s not about Windows 12. It’s not even something that’s arriving soon in Insider builds of Windows 11 for testers. This is something that’s imminent.

AI in Windows Beyond Copilot

But AI features are about more than just Windows Copilot. Those features will arrive in a variety of Windows apps with the fall Windows 11 2023 update (that’s Windows 11 23H2, as it’s launching in the second half of 2023). They’ll arrive along with Windows Copilot in the update.

For example, Microsoft has been talking a lot about Microsoft Paint lately. (How many people actually use Microsoft Paint, though? A few years ago, Microsoft actually killed Paint — and then brought it back.)

Microsoft Paint is getting a “Paint Cocreator” feature that will generate images for you with OpenAI’s DALL-E 3 image generation model. (Microsoft also announced plans to upgrade its other tools to DALL-E 3, including the Bing Image Creator, Microsoft Designer, and the ask-for-an-image experience in Bing Chat. They all currently use an older model of DALL-E.)

In a curious bit of branding, Paint is the only place I saw the “Cocreator” name used. Even in Microsoft 365, the experience that creates documents for you is called “Microsoft 365 Copilot.”

Paint is also getting other features, like background removal and layers.

Microsoft Paint Cocreator Microsoft

Beyond Paint, Microsoft’s Clipchamp video editor is getting AI features for editing videos. Microsoft demonstrated providing a long video of an event to Clipchamp and having AI automatically pick out the highlights for a highlights reel, complete with transitions. The Photos app is getting AI features, including a one-click background blur tool and improved search.

Other new features tie in with AI. The Snipping Tool gains the ability to capture an image of your screen and extract the text from it — just like on Android and iPhone. That will help Windows provide text you can see anywhere directly to Windows Copilot, naturally.

Microsoft also demonstrated its “inking anywhere” feature, which lets you write with a stylus in any text box on the system. Microsoft showed off writing a math equation in the Windows Copilot chatbox, having Windows convert it to standard text, and having Copilot solve it. It’s an upgrade for people who use styluses with their PCs, and it’s useful beyond just Copilot.

What about Microsoft 365 Copilot for Office documents?

Microsoft 365 Copilot is perhaps the most impressive thing Microsoft highlighted: An AI for Office, trained on all your organization’s data, able to do everything from write your emails and attend your meetings for you to prepare PowerPoint presentations and put together spreadsheets.

It was very impressive. Microsoft says Microsoft 365 Copilot will be available to all enterprise customers starting Nov. 1.

Consumers don’t have access just yet, however. Microsoft representatives told me that general availability of Microsoft 365 for consumers would occur in early 2024. They weren’t ready to comment on whether it would cost more than an Office subscription does now.

Personally, I think people will almost certainly have to pay more for it. Microsoft is charging enterprises $30 per user for Microsoft 365 Copilot. These experiences require a lot of computing power.

In fact, it’s crazy so much of this is free at all. OpenAI requires a paid ChatGPT Plus subscription to get a chat experience with with the GPT-4 large language model and the DALL-E 3 image generation model. Microsoft is providing this all for free to everyone as part of Windows, Bing, and its other services. That’s actually pretty impressive. (In fact, I didn’t mention pricing for Windows Copilot and other features at all yet, and you probably just assumed they were free! They are free for everyone, but it’s interesting how we took that for granted.)

What about Windows 12?

Everyone’s interested in Windows 12. We have credible reports that Microsoft plans on releasing it about a year from now. But the company didn’t say a peep about it at this event — not even a teaser. But it seems likely Windows 12 will involve even deeper AI integration.

How could it not?

But even speculating about Windows 12 is missing the point: That future AI integration in Windows starts now, in just a few days, in the Windows 11 operating system we’re already using on our PCs.

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Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.


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