Kathy Gibson reports – Generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) is arguably going to have a more profound impact on the IT and business world than any innovation since the Internet. But, while users across the globe are itching to benefit from GenAI value, a lot of them won’t be able to.

The reason is simply that their devices must be capable of running the complex algorithms that drive GenAI.

In South Africa, it’s estimated that a massive 1,3-million users are still using PCs, laptops and tablets that are more than four years old. And this means they can’t run Windows 11, and are therefore excluded from the many GenAI benefits and features that go with it.

AI is changing the world – and is driving new levels of human productivity, says Mario Fares, senior partner development manager: device partner solutions at Microsoft SA, speaking at a Pinnacle event for SME partners.

“AI is not going to replace us,” he stresses. “But we need to embrace it to be more efficient and more productive.”

Windows 11 is not only the start of the AI journey, it is much more secure than previous versions of the operating system (OS).

Older devices can increase vulnerability, Fares says. “Customers not using the latest OS are more exposed.”

Indeed, Windows 11 is the most secure OS ever with a 20% risk reduction. It offers efficient, cost-effective IT with 25% faster deployment.

It is also easy to use, compatible and productive, offering 99,7% app compatibility.

And faster performance goes without saying. Windows 11 offers 50% performance improvement, with ultra reliability, Fares says.

Not only that, Windows is the catalyst for partner growth, Fares says.

“From April this year, all hardware shipped by our partners will be shipped with NPU, so they will be able to benefit from the AI era.”

Windows 10 end of support will be in October 2025, and those 1,3-million devices won’t have access to security upgrades, and won’t be able to benefit from AI innovations.

Of that 1,3-million devices unable to take advantage of Windows 11, a massive 503 000 are installed in enterprise environments, with 820 000 in small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

So the opportunity is not just in hardware refresh, but in installation, support and maintenance services, Fares points out.

Migrating is not a trivial exercise for companies, he adds. Indeed, a medium company could only be completely migrated in mid-2026 – even if they start today.

“So we need to start the refresh now,” Fares says. “If we don’t we will run into problems with supply and deliveries.

“I urge you to start this exercise as of today.”

When October 2025 rolls around, the supply chain is going to be constrained, so companies that take their time to begin their refresh will be left behind, Fares adds.

Copilot is Microsoft’s GenAI tool embedded into Windows 11 and many applications.

“The speed at which GenAI hit 100-million uses – three months – is indicative of how important it is going to be.”

Copilot is available for free for consumer and enterprise customers running Windows 11. If customers want to benefit further, they can upgrade to Copilot Pro for $20 per month, or Microsoft 365 for $30 per month per user.

Fares demonstrated how to create a PowerPoint presentation using Copilot. He simply chooses the Word document that includes pertinent content and Copilot generates slides within minutes.

“Of course, you do need to have some human intervention,” he points out.

Even without any upgrades, every Windows 11 user has access to the Copilot functionality embedded in the OS, working with Microsoft’s search engine Bing.

Fares shows how Copilot can summarise a Word or PDF document, er even extract information from a chart. It can also build documents in Word or Excel from information and images on the user’s system or the Web; and create images from a description.