You can’t have missed Microsoft’s attempts to stuff generative AI into almost everything it makes, from Bing search to the Windows OS. And it continues: the most recent update for Windows 11 has rolled out Copilot to all users.
If you’re new to Copilot, it’s very much like the AI you can chat with via Bing search, with a few Windows-specific features: the ability to launch apps, for example, or manage screenshots pasted to the clipboard.
It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s early days for the tool
In its announcement of the feature, Microsoft says that Copilot will “uniquely incorporate the context and intelligence of the web, your work data and what you are doing in the moment on your PC to provide better assistance.” However, it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s early days for the tool, so you can’t hand over all — or even many — of your computing tasks to it just yet. With that in mind, here’s how to get started.
Before you begin, you probably want to make sure you’re running the latest version of Windows 11: Copilot is part of the September 2023 Windows update.
- Open Settings and then pick Windows Update.
- Depending on where you are located geographically and how far down your PC is on Microsoft’s update list, you may have to enable the Get the latest updates as soon as they’re available toggle switch.
To launch Copilot, which shows up in a panel on the right of your screen, click the Copilot button on the taskbar, or press Win + C on the keyboard.
By the way, if you’d rather Copilot not show up on the taskbar, head to Personalization > Taskbar in Settings, then turn Copilot off.
Using Copilot to control Windows
Don’t expect too much from Copilot’s Windows integration just yet: at the time of writing, it’s still labeled a “preview” feature. Here are some cool little tricks I was able to do with it:
- Type “turn on dark mode” to switch to Windows dark mode.
- Type “open Windows Settings” to open the main Settings panel.
- Type “launch File Explorer” to start browsing files on your PC.
Even these integrations aren’t particularly slick, though. In each case, you’ll have to click Yes to confirm the action you want to take, and even then, Copilot will continue to babble on about what it’s about to do before asking again if you want to perform the action (even when it’s already done it). And a note: at least one of my colleagues reports that even this didn’t work for her — when she asked Copilot to launch File Explorer, it said that it couldn’t do it. Your results may vary.
Something that does work in a more seamless fashion is typing “take a screenshot” — this launches Snipping Tool (just as pressing the PrtSc key does), no questions asked. Asking Copilot to “change the wallpaper” works well, too, because it takes you straight to the Personalization page in Settings without any additional prompts.
As for integration with Windows’ other apps, there’s a long way to go. Ask Copilot to “duplicate a slide” in PowerPoint, for example, and it’ll tell you how to do it (with instructions scraped from Bing) rather than actually doing it. Telling the bot to “create a presentation on the benefits of Copilot” only produces generic AI babble such as “start with a slide that introduces the topic and the main points you want to cover” — yeah, thanks for that, Copilot.
Of course, the Microsoft apps including PowerPoint are getting Copilot integrations of their own in the near future, though these features are not yet live for individuals and smaller organizations — and they’re going to come with an extra fee attached.
Copilot and everything else
If you’ve used ChatGPT, Bing Chat (which is based on similar tech as ChatGPT), Google Bard, or any of the other generative AI text tools that have emerged in recent months, then you’ll have a good idea of what else you can do with Copilot in Windows.
You can ask it to write poetry, predict fashion trends, compare smartphones against each other, come up with ideas for a kids party, explain difficult concepts in simple language, pull up a recipe for chocolate chip cookies, and plenty more.
To start a new chat with Copilot, click the three dots at the top of the panel and then choose Refresh. As well as removing what was already there, this will give you some suggestions about what you might want to ask: perhaps you want it to generate some C code or you need gift ideas for a particular type of friend.
When you start a fresh Copilot conversation, you can pick from More Creative, More Balanced, and More Precise — the same options already available in Bing Chat on the web. In other words, you can sacrifice a little accuracy if you want more imaginative responses. There’s also a microphone icon down in the lower-right corner, which you can click if you’d rather speak your prompts aloud instead of typing them.
There’s only one setting in Copilot at the moment, but it’s kind of an important one, and you can find it by clicking on the three dots at the top of the panel and choosing Settings. It’s Let Copilot in Windows use Microsoft Edge content, and it essentially lets Copilot “see” what you’re looking at in Edge.
So, for example, you could ask it to summarize a news article or explain some of the terms included on a page. You can even ask about pictures on a website — what they show, for example. However, this feature seemed a bit hit or miss in our testing, with Copilot occasionally getting answers wrong or not being able to view the content at all.
Finally, you can also give Copilot images to work with. Click the square icon in the lower-left corner of the input box, and you’re asked to select an image from your system or provide a link to an image on the web. After that’s done, you can ask Copilot to identify what’s in the picture or get it to find other similar images like it on the web.