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Ever since the first Microsoft AI event earlier this year, the company has been eager to position itself at the very tip of the Generative AI spear. Starting with its efforts around Bing Search through early glimpses of the technology being integrated into the Office suite and then Windows, Microsoft is working quickly to bring the power of GenAI to as many of its applications and services as it can.
Up until now, the problem has been that many of these efforts have been focused on the individual capabilities of a specific application and not organized into a unified strategy.
At this week’s AI event in NYC, however, the company made it clear that it is now organizing these efforts around Microsoft Copilot, with a newly designed icon and more coherent vision. It’s also working to make the user interface of its GenAI-powered Copilot experiences more consistent across a range of products.
That’s a big step forward versus the more scattershot approach that different groups in the company had started to take. The net result is – or at least will be, when some of the new efforts are completed – a more comprehensive set of capabilities packaged and operated in a more consistent manner.
The two biggest announcements to come from the event are the launch of a new GenAI-enabled version of Windows 11 which is coming out next week, as well as the general launch of the Copilot-powered Office suite in Microsoft 365 coming November 1. The Windows updates include a number of capabilities for controlling system settings via either a chatbot-like text interface or your voice, as well as new GenAI-powered versions of image and video utility apps.
The new Paint, for example, includes capabilities more associated with Adobe-type content creation capabilities such as support for layers and background removal. The updated Photos app incorporates easy background blur and things like easy object removal. The ClipChamp video editor integrates the ability to automatically edit raw footage down to a concise visual summary.
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The Windows 11 22H2 update incorporates a much improved email client that will be called Outlook for Windows (though it’s built from a different code base than the Office’s Outlook). As with its bigger brethren, it will integrate the ability to generate emails from simple prompts via a chat-based experience. A new version of File Explorer also integrates AI to more easily discover files without needing to know the exact title of the document or photo but just some characteristics about it.
On the productivity side, Microsoft 365 Copilot includes all the GenAI features that were previewed back in the spring and then some. The experience of using it across the productivity suite will be via a consistent sidebar style chat experience that Microsoft calls Microsoft 365 Chat. In addition, M365 Copilot provides access to all your documents, emails, Teams meeting notes and transcripts, so that it can provide the type of informed digital assistant capabilities that made the initial preview of the technology so compelling.
What’s also interesting, and very important for organizations, is that it maintains all the data access capabilities that each individual has with the company. That means, for example, that Copilot for members of a team working on new product ideas could access all those documents as part of its “intelligence,” but wouldn’t be able to see spreadsheets from finance department personnel, and vice versa.
… a feature in Outlook called “Sound like me,” leverages access to your previous emails and documents to create a ghost writer-like feature that can emulate your style and tone when generating new emails.
Some of the many new capabilities that are coming to the general launch of Microsoft Copilot 365 include the ability to summarize an email thread in Outlook of both contents and participants. For those who often find themselves included in long email threads, this should make the process of getting caught up on your inbox much easier. Even more interesting is a feature in Outlook called “Sound like me,” which leverages access to your previous emails and documents to create a ghost writer-like feature that can emulate your style and tone when generating new emails. Integrating similar features in Word could have an even more dramatic impact on those for whom writing is a critical part of their job.
Speaking of which, the latest Word includes document summarization capabilities and the ability to rewrite existing copy into one of several different styles. OneNote is also adding features for summarization and automatic copy editing.
There are also some new apps being added to the suite such as Microsoft Designer, which leverages OpenAI’s Dall-E 3 model to do image generation. Designer can also work within other applications, such as Word, making it easier to create attractive documents.
Microsoft also announced the general availability of Bing Chat Enterprise for mobile. As with the desktop version, Bing Chat Enterprise is free to all existing M365 customers – unlike Copilot for M365 for which Microsoft has announced pricing of $30 per user, per month. Bing Chat Enterprise assures the privacy of data entered into the prompt so that companies can use it for search purposes without data leakage concerns, but it doesn’t have the ties or integration with Microsoft 365 applications that Microsoft 365 Chat does.
To wrap up the event, Microsoft debuted several new Surface PC devices, including the Surface Laptop Go 3, the Surface Go 4 and the Surface Laptop Studio 2. The Laptop Studio has been upgraded to include not only Intel 13th Gen Core processors, but an Nvidia 4050/4060 or Ada 2000 GPU, and an Intel Movidius VPU/NPU, along with up to 64 GB of RAM, up to 2 TB of storage, and an accessibility-friendly haptic touchpad. Those are great raw specs on their own, but as Microsoft demonstrated at the event, it also lets this notebook run some GenAI foundation models directly on the device.
As Intel did earlier in the week with its Core Ultra SoC, Microsoft showed Meta’s Llama 2 LLM running in a disconnected mode directly on the Surface Laptop Studio 2. While the effort was initially presumed to be done by the Intel VPU/NPU – which happens to be an earlier version of the NPU that will be incorporated into Core Ultra SoCs when they’re released on December 14 – it was actually being run on the Nvidia GPU. This illustrates that real-world GenAI on the PC is starting to be accomplished in several different ways, all of which offer some potentially huge benefits in privacy and security. It also makes the case clear that client device based GenAI is coming a lot faster than many expected.
Microsoft made clear that it’s continuing to move forward on GenAI-based experiences in an aggressive way. The company sees Copilot work as the computing paradigm of the future. To act on that vision, Microsoft will be quickly bringing it to the billions of people who currently use Windows 11 or the productivity apps found in Microsoft 365. The impact of these moves is bound to be enormous, and the ripple effect of these launches will likely be felt for many years to come.
Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech