Unlike Meta, Microsoft doesn't need to change its name to prove it's committed to an entirely new tech platform: It's doing so through action. After debuting its AI-infused Bing search engine earlier this year, the company unveiled the Microsoft 365 Copilot for Office apps. And even before those consumer reveals, Microsoft delivered an AI tool for developers in 2021 with GitHub Copilot. Today at its Build developer conference, Microsoft is making the inevitable next step: It's making AI an integral part of Windows 11.
The new Windows Copilot tool lives in the Windows sidebar and, as with Microsoft's Bing AI chatbot, you can use it as a super-powered search engine by typing in general questions. But true to its name, it's also deeply integrated with Windows. You can ask it to accomplish tasks within the OS — like turning on the night light mode, or changing your desktop background — without fishing around for specific settings. Windows Copilot can also function as a genuine virtual assistant by summarizing documents, or launching a photo app to accomplish a few edits before sending it off to a group of your coworkers. Cortana would never.
"I think about Windows and the role of AI as such an opportunity," said Panos Panay, Microsoft Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer, in an interview with Engadget ahead of Tuesday’s launch. "We have hundreds of millions of people [using Windows], bringing the power of AI to Windows 11 gives you the opportunity to not only get more creative and get more productive, but ultimately just let every Windows user become a power user."
Windows Copilot, which will be available to preview in June, also has the potential to reach far more users than the revamped Bing. The company's search engine clearly received plenty of buzz thanks to AI — Microsoft said it hit 100 million daily active users a month after the AI chat feature launched — but according to StatCounter, Bing has also lost market share over the past few months. It hit 7.2 percent in April, down from a recent high of 9.92 percent last October.
That's not entirely surprising, though. Microsoft's battle against Google has always seemed like a hopeless endeavor. The company launched its first attempt, MSN Search, in 1998 soon after Google arrived, and amid Yahoo's dominance as the go-to web portal. MSN Search turned into Live Search, which ultimately evolved into Bing in 2009.
Microsoft has always been a company that's dabbled in search, but it's not a search company. But Windows is another matter entirely. It's a product with a devoted user base, many of whom have decades of experience with the OS. According to Microsoft, there are over 1.4 billion monthly active devices running Windows 10 or 11. (And of course, that doesn't include the PCs running older Windows versions.) Microsoft previously tried to bring Bing's AI capabilities into the Windows taskbar in February, but that ultimately just amounted to a shortcut that launched Bing's AI chatbot in the Edge browser. Windows Copilot actually weaves AI into the core Windows 11 experience.