Microsoft will let customers connect its Microsoft 365 Copilot to other applications via “plugin” integrations, effectively giving the generative AI assistant access to data from thousands of third-party software tools, the company announced today at its Build developer conference.

The AI assistant, unveiled in March, uses OpenAI’s ChatGPT-4 large language model (LLM) to automate processes in Word, Outlook, Teams, and other apps in the M365 suite. In recent weeks, Microsoft has continued to add new ways customers can access the Copilot across M365 apps and extended a private preview to 600 businesses.

The new “plugin extensions” essentially act as a bridge between Copilot and other software accessed by a business, allowing the AI assistant to tap into a wider range of data. This could include internal applications built within an organization or third-party tools.

“Simply put, plugins are the connection between copilots and the rest of the digital world,” said Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft’s chief communications officer, in a pre-recorded briefing ahead of the Build event.

The addition of plugins shifts the M365 Copilot from a “product to a platform strategy” for Microsoft, said Ritu Jyoti, group vice president for worldwide artificial intelligence (AI) and automation research at IDC. “We can think of Microsoft 365 Copilot as the ‘OS’ of the future, and plugins are the tools for businesses and ISVs to participate in the new ecosystem being created.”

The addition of plugins to Copilot helps users to get work done without switching apps, said Adam Preset, vice president analyst for digital workplace at Gartner. The move is good for Microsoft, too.

“Other productivity application vendors may want worker attention to shift over to their applications and away from Microsoft,” he said. “That’s harder if applications like Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Outlook are already the center of gravity of work in some organizations.”

Businesses taking part in the M365 Copilot early access customers will be able to access 50 plugins built by software vendors, including Atlassian, Adobe, ServiceNow and Mural, with “thousands more” available in the coming months, Microsoft said.

“Many developers will be asked to jump on the bandwagon so their applications stay present and visible as part of this AI story,” said Preset.

As more plugins are created, the utility of individual integrations will be of greater importance than the breadth of offerings, he argued. “How good will the plugins be? Let’s hope for high-quality plugins with real depth of capability and functionality. Otherwise, people frustrated with shallow plugins with limited utility will just wind up context-switching around to different applications as they’re doing today,” said Preset.

There are different ways to integrate the M365 Copilot into other apps, Microsoft said. One is through the use of OpenAI’s plugin format, which allows the AI software vendor’s ChatGPT chatbot to integrate with external apps. At Build, Microsoft announced it will adopt the same open plugin standard as OpenAI — which it part owns — to enable interoperability across ChatGPT, the M365 Copilot, Microsoft’s Bing AI assistant, and the Copilot AI assistants created for its Dynamics 365, Power Platform, and security products.

Other ways to connect plugins for Copilot are via Teams message extensions and Power Platform connectors, Microsoft said.

“Developers who have already built integrations with the Microsoft ecosystem, such as Teams message extensions and Power Platform connectors, will see those integrations automatically function as plugins, giving users access to thousands of line-of-business and ISV plugins on Day 1,” said Jyoti.

Among the other announcements at Build, Microsoft said the M365 Copilot will be natively integrated into its Edge web browser.

“In combination with Edge, Microsoft 365 Copilot becomes even more intuitive by following the context of what you’re looking at in the browser to provide better answers,” Lindsay Kubasik, group product manager for Edge Enterprise, said in a blog post Tuesday. “For example, as you’re looking at a file your colleague shared, you can simply ask, ‘What are the key takeaways from this document?’”

Microsoft also announced a new Copilot, this one for Windows 11.

Windows Copilot Microsoft

Windows Copilot, Microsoft’s latest AI assistant, can access information from Bing Chat, Bing search data, and context across Windows 11 apps.

“Windows is the first PC platform to provide centralized AI assistance for customers,” Microsoft’s chief product officer, Panos Panay, said in a blog post.  The Windows Copilot can be accessed directly from the Windows 11 taskbar via a Copilot icon. This will function in a similar way to Microsoft’s Bing Chat, with users able to ask questions in natural language, and direct the AI assistant to rewrite or summarize written content.

The Windows Copilot will be available in preview for Windows 11 in June, Microsoft said.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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