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How do Microsoft's various Copilots work?

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Driek Desmet

In recent months, Copilot has been highlighted often by Microsoft. With it, they designed a smart AI work partner that will simplify users' work by, among other things, providing a unified experience across Microsoft's various products, such as Bing, Edge, Microsoft 365 and Windows.

What is Microsoft Copilot?

Copilot is a powerful digital assistant designed specifically to increase your productivity and make your tasks easier. Integrated and available in Windows 11 (update on 26 September), it provides instant support for all Microsoft programmes and other tasks. It appears as a sidebar on your desktop and allows you to manage your PC settings, launch apps and answer questions herein.

What makes this assistant really useful is its integration with different parts of Microsoft's operating system. Whether you want to process a document to PowerPoint, write a text in Word, analyse figures in Excel, edit media in Paint or just need help, Copilot is there for you.

As from January 16th, 2024, Copilot has been generally available. Moreover, to give smaller customers access to Copilot too, Microsoft has abolished the minimum purchase volume and customers with Office 365 E3 and E5 licences can now activate Copilot for Microsoft 365. Previously, this required a Microsoft 365 licence. 

More than one pilot in the cockpit

It is important to understand Copilot for Microsoft is not a single service. There are several Copilots within the larger Microsoft ecosystem and some are still in previews, so not all the details are always known. 

The infographic* below provides a compact overview of the main Copilots.

Microsoft Copilots infographic Easi

* Click on the image for a full-size pdf version

Copilot Orchestrator

Each of these Copilots makes underlying use of Azure OpenAI, Microsoft's proprietary way of providing the OpenAI Large Language models through a PaaS service. On top of that, most services use an "orchestrator" that handles different functions and capabilities depending on what the user wants to perform. In many cases, this orchestrator performs different GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) functions.

Copilot Orchestrator - EN

This example shows how PowerPoint with Copilot is used to create slides. Here, the APIs of DALL-E and GPT are used to generate data, and then sent to PowerPoint via the Graph API to create content.

How does each Copilot from Microsoft work?

Microsoft 365 Copilot


Microsoft 365 Copilot has many of the data stored in Microsoft 365 as data sources, such as Exchange, SharePoint, Teams and OneDrive. This means that data sources linked to PowerBI are currently not supported with Copilot 365.

Microsoft Copilot Studio


Microsoft Copilot Studio is an innovation of Power Virtual Agents, a framework that was mainly used to create chatbots using predefined topics or keywords. However, the innovation extends further and provides a graphical development environment for building customised copilots using generative AI.


The Conversational plugins feature in Copilot Studio allows you to build addons/extensions for Microsoft 365 Copilot. This is how you build out functions that the Copilot Orchestrator needs to handle, including custom actions against third-party data sources.

Microsoft Copilot


Moreover, you also have Microsoft Copilot (formerly known as Bing Chat) which combines the functions of GPT and Dall-E with the Bing search engine and Edge web browser. Thus, it uses generative AI to find information to create content, for example. By default, this does not access Microsoft 365 data.


This feature is also embedded in Windows with Windows Copilot. This allows you to use this feature outside the Edge browser. This Windows Copilot also has a set of functions that you can use to "chat" locally with various settings in Windows. Examples include changing power settings or a new wallpaper.

So the language model still comes from the cloud service and is not run locally.

Microsoft Sales Copilot


Microsoft Sales Copilot can analyse data from different sources to provide in-depth information, such as forecasts. It can also be used to automate a wide range of applications.

Microsoft Viva Copilot


The Microsoft Viva Copilot helps to analyse and automate data from the Viva ecosystem, designed to support employees and teams in their daily work.

Microsoft Fabric Copilot


Finally, we have Microsoft Fabric Copilot and PowerBI Copilot, which offer largely the same capabilities of generative AI capabilities for Data Science, Data Factory and PowerBI. 

These features are currently still in preview and will most likely not be made available until the end of March.

This feature doesn't allow you to "talk to your data" directly, but it helps in making transformations and creating queries or reports. For example: You can't directly ask what total sales were in 2023, where it would point to a set of data, but you can ask it to help you create PowerBI reports. 


Microsoft: "Manage Copilot"
Microsoft: "Copilot, your everyday AI companion"
Marius Sandbu: "How do the different Copilot services from Microsoft actually work?"

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