Microsoft CEO sees AI-powered Copilot as 'like the Start button' of Windows

 Windows Copilot for Windows 11.
Windows Copilot for Windows 11.

Windows 11 may have moved the Start button to the center of the taskbar, but it sounds like a future version of Windows could get rid of it entirely.

At least, that's one potential future conjured up by comments made by Microsoft chief Satya Nadella during a pre-recorded conversation with Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon during the company's launch of its new Snapdragon X Elite chip.

This is a new Qualcomm chip for laptops that the company claims outperforms competitors like Intel's 13th Gen Raptor Lake CPUs and the Apple M2 chip. But those are fast becoming outdated comparisons, because by the end of 2023 we expect to be buying laptops with the latest 14th Gen Intel Meteor Lake CPUs and Apple M3 chips.

Now that "AI" is the buzzword du jour in tech you can expect to see it crop up a lot more in marketing for all these new chips, and Qualcomm is no slouch in that department. Its new Snapdragon X Elite chips are built to run Windows on ARM with lots of support for "AI" workloads via its Qualcomm AI Engine, which is powered by an NPU (Neural Processing Unit) capable of running on-device generative AI LLM (large language models) like the kind that power Bing with ChatGPT.

Since AI was a big talking point of Qualcomm's presentation Nadella and Amon got to talking about AI in Windows, and where we might see it go in the years ahead. Microsoft has been busy building on its success with Bing with ChatGPT by adding AI-assisted Microsoft Copilots into everything from Microsoft 365 to Windows 11, and during the conversation Nadella said something particularly illuminating about how he envisions the future of AI and Windows.

"There is a new generation of AI PCs that I think are getting created [...] the work we’re doing together, you know, it’s sort of going to bring together these experiences that cannot be done without sort of a new system architecture," said Nadella.

"The Copilot is like the Start button,” he continued. "It becomes the orchestrator of all your app experiences. So for example, I just go there and express my intent and it either navigates me to an application or it brings the application to the Copilot, so it helps me learn, query and create — and completely changes, I think, the user habits."

Windows 11 Start menu redesign
Windows 11 Start menu redesign

Sure sounds a lot like we could see Copilot replace the Start button in a future version of Windows, doesn't it? And since we saw a mention of "Windows 12 support" early this year in an Intel leak revealing that Windows 12 could be on the way sooner than you think, it's not outlandish to wonder whether we might see that start happening as early as 2024.

Outlook

Still, if Copilot is being considered as a potential successor to the Start button I think we've got a while yet before Microsoft pulls the trigger.

The Windows 11 update with Copilot just dropped in September so the tool is still in early preview form, and I don't expect Microsoft to push it to the forefront of Windows anytime soon—we saw how well that went when Microsoft redesigned the Start menu and all anyone wanted to know for years after was how to change the Windows 11 Start menu back to Windows 10.

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