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What is Microsoft 365 Copilot? The AI coming to Word, Excel, and more

Microsoft's famous office suite is about to get a whole lot smarter.
By
January 3, 2024
microsoft 365 copilot hero
Microsoft

Microsoft has dominated the tech news cycle in recent months, thanks to its $10 billion investment in ChatGPT creator OpenAI and a flurry of new releases like Bing Chat. The Redmond giant isn’t stopping there either as it’s now poised to roll out a new AI-powered assistant in its office suite. Dubbed Microsoft 365 Copilot, the feature will automate tasks like writing emails, summarizing meetings, and even making beautiful PowerPoint presentations. All of this may sound too good to be true, but Microsoft’s early demos look promising.

So in this article, let’s take a closer look at Microsoft 365 Copilot, what it can do, and how you can use it.

Microsoft has rebranded its Bing Chat chatbot to Microsoft Copilot, which confusingly isn't the same as Microsoft 365 Copilot.

What is Microsoft 365 Copilot?

Microsoft 365 Copilot is a new generative AI feature that assists with work tasks like writing documents, editing spreadsheets, and summarizing meetings. You’ll find it within various Microsoft 365 apps, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.

For context, here’s a quick rundown of Microsoft 365 Copilot’s capabilities:

  • Copilot can write entire documents based on a short prompt. For example, you could say “Draft a cover letter for the role of a senior software developer”.
  • In PowerPoint, Copilot can help reduce the amount of text in slides, add AI-generated images, and reduce a long presentation to a handful of slides.
  • When you’re dealing with large amounts of data in Excel, you could ask Copilot to quickly analyze it and create an easily-digestible visualization.
  • If your workplace uses Microsoft Teams, you can ask Copilot to summarize a meeting, catch up on unread chats, and even ask about individual team members.
  • In Microsoft’s email app Outlook, you can rely on Copilot to tailor your writing to sound professional, friendly, or a specific tone of your choice. You can also ask the AI to write a draft, eliminating all of the hard work.
  • For digital note-takers, Microsoft has also integrated Copilot into OneNote and Loop. You can think of this integration as a virtual assistant that you can ask to quickly sort, search, and summarize your notes.

Besides these isolated examples, Microsoft has also developed Copilot to work seamlessly across the entire app suite. So for example, you could create a new Word document and ask Copilot to draft a report based on a different Excel file. Likewise, you’ll be able to ask Copilot to bring notes from Microsoft Teams into OneNote and summarize the text before adding it to a note.

Microsoft 365 Copilot vs Google Duet AI for Workspace: What’s the difference?

Google IO 2023 duet ai for workspace
Google

If the concept of Microsoft 365 Copilot sounds familiar, that’s because Google already has a competing feature. It’s called Duet AI for Workspace and powers features like Help Me Write in Gmail and Google Docs. However, it’s not as fully featured as the examples we’ve seen from Microsoft so far. Things may improve in the future, but as it stands, here’s a quick comparison between Google and Microsoft’s AI-powered productivity features:

Microsoft 365 CopilotGoogle Duet AI for Workspace
Supported apps
Microsoft 365 Copilot
Entire Microsoft 365 Office suite plus Microsoft Teams
Google Duet AI for Workspace
Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Google Meet
Interoperability
Microsoft 365 Copilot
Can reference files across other Microsoft apps
Google Duet AI for Workspace
Currently limited; Duet AI cannot see the contents of a different document or file
Image generation
Microsoft 365 Copilot
Yes, via OpenAI’s Dall-E 2 image generator
Google Duet AI for Workspace
Yes, presumed via Adobe Firefly
Language model
Microsoft 365 Copilot
OpenAI GPT-4
Google Duet AI for Workspace
Google PaLM 2
Current availability
Microsoft 365 Copilot
Closed, private testing for paid customers
Google Duet AI for Workspace
Available to general public for free via waitlist

Microsoft 365 Copilot release date and price

microsoft 365 copilot onenote
Microsoft
Copilot in OneNote

While Microsoft 365 Copilot seems extremely promising on paper, the company has limited access to enterprise customers for now. This means that you’ll need to pay $30 per month to access it. On top of that, you’ll also need an active Microsoft 365 Enterprise subscription, which will set you back an additional $36 each month.

Copilot's full feature set costs $30 per month on top of a $36 Microsoft 365 subscription.

At this point, it’s unclear if Microsoft 365 Copilot will ever become free to use. But based on the company’s aggressive AI push with its chatbot and Bing Image Creator, it may happen. Microsoft also faces some competition from Google, where anyone can freely access generative AI in Google Search, Gmail, and Docs right now.

On the flip side, however, Microsoft’s AI features cost money to operate. Large language models, especially advanced ones like GPT-4, consume lots of computing resources. So from that perspective, it’s easy to see why you may need a monthly subscription to use Copilot.

Microsoft 365 Copilot features

On paper, Microsoft 365 Copilot is an exciting prospect for office workers. In brief, Copilot can be viewed as a more extensive and capable version of Microsoft’s original Office helper, Clippy. But unlike Clippy’s severely limited feature kit, Copilot uses generative AI to assist users with documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more.

Here’s a brief look at what Copilot brings to some of the 365 products:

  • Outlook: Microsoft notes that Copilot can help users manage their inboxes more efficiently. More specifically, it claims it’ll allow you to clear your inbox “in minutes, not hours.”
  • Excel: Based on preview videos, you can ask Copilot to analyze data in spreadsheets to seek out trends, and create visualizations of said data.
  • PowerPoint: Create presentations based on a prompt. For instance, users can create an entire slideshow by referring to details in a product guide.
  • Word: Word makes full use of Copilot’s GPT-4 roots. Microsoft notes that you can create first drafts using a prompt, which could save hours. Users can then accept the draft, modify it, and more.

Microsoft is also rolling out Copilot in the form of Business Chat, which works across the umbrella of 365 apps.

Is Microsoft 365 Copilot free?

microsoft 365 copilot word
Microsoft
Copilot drafting a document in Word

No, Microsoft 365 Copilot is not free and it’s unclear if a free tier will ever be available. Copilot will be available through Microsoft 365’s Enterprise-level E3 and E5 tiers, alongside Business Standard and Business Premium offerings.

Notably, the Copilot moniker is coming to other Microsoft properties in the future. The company has rolled out Windows Copilot — a similar feature built into Windows 11. The feature effectively doubles as a system manager, and allows users to open files, control apps, and adjust system settings. Announced in June 2023, the feature debuted with the Windows 11 update released on September 26, 2023.