Microsoft brings Copilot AI assistant to small businesses and launches a premium tier for individuals – CNBC

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  • Microsoft will offer its Copilot virtual assistant to small businesses with Microsoft 365 Business Premium and Business Standard subscriptions.
  • Commercial customers can under 300 licenses and those with less expensive Office subscriptions can now access Copilot.
  • A new Copilot Pro tier for $20 per person per month for consumer subscribers will bring Copilot into Word, Excel and other Microsoft productivity apps.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the CES conference in Las Vegas on Jan. 9, 2024.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Microsoft said on Tuesday that small businesses can now subscribe to its Copilot virtual assistant in the company’s productivity apps. And consumers who pay for the Microsoft 365 software can sign up for a new paid version of Copilot.

The updates will help Microsoft expose more of its customers to generative artificial intelligence, a technology startup OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot popularized last year that can compose natural-sounding text with a person’s brief written command. Expanding access might help the company start to cover the costs of building data center infrastructure that enables AI.

Investors have been betting on Microsoft to capitalize on generative AI demand in operating systems, cloud, productivity, web search and security, even as it faces competition from the likes of Amazon and Google. Last week Microsoft reclaimed from Apple the title of most valuable publicly traded company.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, has been conveying lately that AI lies at the center of the software maker’s identity. “Our vision is pretty straightforward. We are the Copilot company,” Nadella said at Microsoft’s Ignite conference in Seattle in November.

Microsoft started offering Copilot for Microsoft 365 — drawing on OpenAI’s large language models — to large companies in November and to faculty and staff at educational institutions in December. For them, the add-on costs $30 per person per month on top of existing subscription costs.

Now, small businesses that pay for Microsoft 365 Business Premium and Business Standard can sign up for up to 299 licenses at $30 per person per month, Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s head of Windows and Surface, wrote in a blog post.

Additionally, he wrote, Microsoft is getting rid of the 300-seat minimum for commercial plans that has been in place since November, and it will permit Copilot’s use for those with Office 365 E3 or E5, which cost less than full Microsoft 365 subscriptions.

Individuals who have wanted to use the Copilot have been able to access it free of charge in a variety of ways, including in the Bing search engine and at copilot.microsoft.com. But those who pay for Microsoft 365 Personal and Family subscriptions haven’t been able to use it in Word, Excel, Outlook and other apps. That’s changing. As of Tuesday, people can sign up for the new Copilot Pro add-on for $20 per person each month.

Those with Copilot Pro receive “priority access to the very latest models — starting today with OpenAI’s GPT-4 Turbo,” Mehdi wrote.

They will be able to use the cutting-edge model during the busiest times, switch between models and design custom chatbots using a forthcoming tool called Copilot GPT Builder.

“Whether you need advanced help with writing, coding, designing, researching or learning, Copilot Pro brings greater performance, productivity and creativity,” Mehdi wrote.

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