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Most Windows 11 users will have to wait for their AI Copilot

Microsoft Satya Nadella Windows CopilotImage: YouTube

Microsoft’s next Windows 11 feature update won’t roll out overnight. In fact, several pieces will take some time to deliver — including the launch of the highly anticipated Windows Copilot feature.

Today, you can begin downloading some of the future features of Windows 11 as part of the new update. But there’s still an unexpected twist: The new Windows 11 features we thought were scheduled for Windows 11 23H2 are part of a new update to Windows 11 22H2 instead. There is in fact a separate Windows 11 23H2 update, due sometime in the fourth quarter, which will be known as the Windows 11 2023 Update.

“These experiences, including Copilot in Windows and more, will start to become available on Sept. 26 as part of our latest update to Windows 11, version 22H2,” Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s consumer marketing chief, wrote in a blog post describing the new features, some of which Microsoft showed off last week.

Is this just semantics? Yes, mostly, such as the renaming of Windows Copilot to just Copilot. Right now, the Windows 11 2023 Update is described as a “cumulative” update, with all of the features announced in Windows 11 22H2 update. It will have the same servicing branch and code base as Windows 11, version 22H2. Put another way, these new Windows 11 features will trickle out to Windows PCs over the next few months. Windows 11 23H2 will be the backup safety net that gathers them all up and possibly adds a few new bits.

Mark Hachman / IDG

We can’t help thinking, though, that things are a little weird in Redmond right now. Microsoft’s passionate chief product officer, Panos Panay, departed on the eve of the Microsoft event, where the company showed off the Surface Laptop Studio 2 and the Surface Laptop Go 3 — though not the Surface Go 4 for Business and the Surface Hub 3, which it also announced. Add to that the uncertainty surrounding the scheduling, and well, we’re just along for the ride.

Microsoft released its new information in a blog post by John Cable, vice president of Windows servicing and delivery, and we’ll try to break down what it all means.

When will you get the latest Windows 11 update?

You’re forgiven if you thought that Microsoft would be releasing Windows 11 23H2 today, on Sept. 26, as Carmen Zlateff, the vice president of Windows, said during Microsoft’s fall launch last week. “Get the new update and you’ll see the benefits of Windows 11,” she said.

That’s true, to some extent. The Windows 11 22H2 update will be released as a “moment,” a servicing release that will be pushed to your PC as what Microsoft calls a “controlled feature rollout.” To make sure you’re first in line, you can go to the Windows 11 Settings menu (Settings > Windows Update) and toggle on the switch that says, “Get the latest updates as soon as they’re available.”

That’s the easy way. Otherwise, Microsoft is going to push the bits and pieces and features of what will be Windows 11 23H2 over the next few weeks, and that’s where it gets confusing. “Windows 11 devices will get new functionality at different times, as we will be gradually rolling out some of these new features over the coming weeks initially via controlled feature rollout (CFR) to consumers,” Cable wrote.

Microsoft is only saying that the Windows 11 2023 Update will be released during the fourth quarter of 2023. “We anticipate broad availability for most new features by the November 2023 security update release for all devices,” Cable adds.

What new features will (eventually) arrive in the Windows 11 2023 Update?

What people may not understand is that the new Windows 11 updates brings features tied to the core operating system, plus a separate suite of new and/or updated Windows apps. We’ve tried to summarize both in our list of Windows 11 2023 Update (23H2) features, but the process is different. If you want to try out Windows 11 23H2 immediately, you’ll need to download the update and visit the Microsoft Store app to search out new app updates for your PC.

The core features that Microsoft is associating with the update that’s rolling out now include:

Windows Copilot (now just Copilot): Microsoft’s AI-powered combination of Bing Chat and Cortana, tied into Copilot-branded features in Edge.Passkeys: Tired of passwords? Microsoft wants to replace actual passwords with the biometric identification via passkeys in Windows Hello, and passkeys are the way of managing those sites. Voice Access: The ability to navigate with your voice within Windows is now more prevalent, so you can use your voice to “log in to your PC” by narrating a PIN, for example.New Narrator voices in Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and English (UK, India).Sensor-based presence sensing: If your gaze drifts, your webcam (provided it supports it) may dim your screen to save power. If you walk away, it may lock your PC.Windows 365 Boot: This enterprise feature allows business customers to log onto a cloud PC, rather than a local one, and switch between them.AI-powered File Explorer: Another business feature, for those with SharePoint accounts. If you meet the criteria, Windows will now highlight recommended files via a carousel view.Instant Games: In much the same way some Android apps can “instantly launch” if they’re not installed, Microsoft is also trying this out with some casual games.An improved volume mixer

Microsoft

The new and/or updated apps that will be associated with the Windows 11 2023 Update include:

Microsoft Paint: Now with the ability to perform AI-driven background removal, Photoshop-like layers, and a new feature: Paint Cocreator. The latter will add generative AI art capabilities to Paint, much like Bing Image Creator does. (Bing Image Creator now uses the advanced DALL-E 3 algorithm.)Dynamic Lighting: Want to control your RGB devices? Dynamic Lighting solves this problem.Microsoft Clipchamp: Microsoft’s slick new Clipchamp video editor now includes AI-based suggestions for getting started with scenes, edits, and a “narrative” for you.Snipping Tool: Microsoft’s snipping tool began as just a sophisticated screenshot tool. In December 2022, Microsoft added the ability to record video as a screen recorder. Now, Snipping Tool can record audio as well. Moreover, it can now extract text from any screenshot, as well as redact text you don’t want it to show, like personal information.Photos: Microsoft is adding background blurring and enhanced search, such as by scenes of a “beach” or “snow.”Windows Backup: This app allows you to back up “most” files, apps, settings, and credentials to the Microsoft cloud and then restore them when you add or migrate to a new PC.Microsoft Store: The app will allow you to select where you want to install games, and will carve out a new games page on the Store app for you.Outlook for Windows: the new look for Outlook is available for free, right now.

Will all of the new Windows 11 2023 Update features arrive at launch?

Nope. And that’s why we’re here.

Copilot, for example, simply won’t be available right away. “Copilot in Windows will start to release in preview to a select set of global markets,” Cable said. “It is our intention to continue to broaden availability over time.”

Copilot also appears to be arriving for primarily commercial customers first, then consumers. “On September 26, Copilot in Windows will start to roll out in a September 2023 optional non-security update for Windows 11, version 22H2 — and will be available behind the commercial control for continuous innovation,” Microsoft wrote. “It will later be included in Windows 11, version 23H2, the annual feature update for Windows 11, which will be released in Q4 of this calendar year. With the feature update, Copilot in Windows will be on by default, but under your control with Microsoft Intune policy or Group Policy.”

That’s the most disappointing omission, because AI and Copilot are the Windows 11 2023 Update’s selling points. Microsoft isn’t saying when Copilot will be broadly available, which could lessen its impact.

But there are other caveats, too. Paint Cocreator will be available, but only in preview to Windows Insiders and via a waitlist. Instant Games is in preview. Microsoft’s improvements to game installations, including the Microsoft Store changes and the choice of where to install games, will be out later this month. Windows Backup and Restore will be available at launch, but not in China.

What does it all mean for you?

If you’re an enthusiast who chases the latest Windows 11 features, this rollout is more chaotic than usual. Microsoft’s essentially adding an extra update — but not really. Copilot may not be readily available. Some of the new features attached to the new apps won’t be immediately ready, either.

The fact is, though, that Copilot hasn’t been that impressive. Passkeys sound great, but really haven’t made an impact. Some of the new apps integrate functions from other Microsoft apps and services.

If you’re a casual Windows user, the updates will eventually hit your PC regardless. With no major changes to the Start menu or the Taskbar, the only addition will be Copilot, whenever it arrives. You can ignore the drama, at least for now.

As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.

Recent stories by Mark Hachman:

Finland’s ‘Windows95man’ is taking Eurovision by stormMicrosoft’s Copilot AI is stealing one of Midjourney’s best featuresMore workers are using AI, but they’re ashamed to admit it

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