Get connected with Microsoft’s AI plugins

Graphical user interfaces began their march to dominance in the eighties, with command-line systems falling from favour in the face of new technologies from Xerox, Apple, Atari and IBM, among others.

Now, some forty years later, we’re on the cusp of another user interface revolution, thanks to rapidly advancing generative AI systems and their promise of true ‘natural language’ interfaces. One of the key questions facing developers is how to prepare their systems to take advantage of the upcoming changes while ensuring human creativity and adaptability retain their critical roles in business, research and society.

Microsoft has embraced AI, most visibly through Microsoft 365 Copilot, so named to emphasise its human-centric design ethos. e

According to the latest Work Trend Index report, knowledge workers spend two days per week attending meetings and managing emails. Perhaps ironically, even though nearly half (49%) of workers said they were worried about AI taking their jobs, almost three-quarters (70%) said they’d use AI to reduce their workloads.

That’s where Copilot comes in. Specifically, Microsoft has just announced extensibility for Microsoft 365 Copilot with plugins. Developers can now easily integrate their apps into Copilot, meaning users can keep using their preferred workplace, productivity and professional tools while taking advantage of AI capabilities.

Bing Chat

Microsoft and OpenAI have agreed to support an open standard for plugins. The standard integrates across ChatGPT (OpenAI) and Copilot (Microsoft) to provide AI capabilities for Bing Chat, Dynamics 365 Copilot, Windows Copilot and Microsoft 365 Copilot.

Windows Copilot

Microsoft also announced its extensibility model for Microsoft 365 with plugins to bring AI’s capabilities to Windows 11. These plugins will bring AI capabilities to existing systems, allowing them to interact with other applications’ APIs to pull real-time information, incorporate business data and perform computations.

Three types of plugins for Microsoft 365 Copilot are available: ChatGPT plugins, Teams message extensions, and Microsoft Power Platform connectors. Developers can bring any OpenAPI-compliant API to Copilot using Teams Toolkit.

Microsoft Graph

Microsoft Graph is an API developer platform that allows users to connect productivity, compliance, collaboration, security and privacy data. It inherits security and permissions at runtime, preserving governance and other controls.

Semantic Index for Copilot controls how Copilot receives Microsoft Graph data. In practical terms, developers can use the Index to deliver secure and highly personalised features and functions.

Copilot can also access structured data from Dynamics 365 and Power Platform, further enriching its data set and value.

AI is for all initiatives

Microsoft aims to make it easier for developers to incorporate AI into their workflows and products. By bootstrapping Copilot’s extensibility model into Teams and Microsoft 365, Microsoft has ensured that developers working with Copilot can take advantage of those platforms’ tooling, distribution, management, commerce and enterprise readiness.

For example, existing Teams extensions won’t need to be re-written to extend to Copilot. Teams Toolkit for Visual Studio makes it easy to create new plugins, which can be configured, published and managed in Teams’ Developer Portal.

Microsoft’s approval and compliance tools (the App Compliance Automation Tool and Microsoft 365 App Compliance Program) speed up those processes. Microsoft’s commercial platform makes it easier for developers to expose and sell their plugins to a broad audience.

More than ‘just’ AI

Microsoft’s recent announcements went beyond its AI initiatives. They included the Live Share SDK, which allows developers to include Live Share capabilities in apps without needing new back-end coding.

Live Share allows Teams meeting attendees to collaborate and interact with content, including by editing, annotating and zooming in and out.

Avatars for Microsoft Teams is also rolling out. An alternative to the video/no video choice posed by other platforms, Avatars allows users to stay off-camera but still have a meaningful, personalised presence.

Immersive spaces for Microsoft Temas allow meeting participants to interact via PC or VR, increasing engagement and opportunities for meaningful interactions.

Finally, Microsoft Mesh is now available in preview, providing tools to create shared PC or VR experiences that extend the physical world into the virtual.

If you’d like to know more about these – or any other – technologies and how your business can take advantage of their innovations, contact us today. We love technology, we love talking about technology and most of all, we love talking with other people about technology.  Why wait?

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