Microsoft is internally testing a new application called "Work Assistant," which might be one of the projects with which company founder Bill Gates is involved closely.
The Work Assistant app, marked as a private internal beta, is designed to help users perform various Office-related tasks on Windows Phone.
One of my contacts confirmed that the Work Assistant application is being developed by Microsoft's Digital Life + Work group, which is part of the Applications and Services Group (ASG) run by Qi Lu. Julie Larson-Green, Chief Experience Officer of ASG, is believed to be spearheading the Work Assistant effort, and Gates has been involved, my source said.
Last week, during a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), Gates said he was helping Microsoft work on a new "Personal Agent" project. While not offering many details, Gates said:
"One project I am working on with Microsoft is the Personal Agent which will remember everything and help you go back and find things and help you pick what things to pay attention to. The idea that you have to find applications and pick them and they each are trying to tell you what is new is just not the efficient model - the agent will help solve this. It will work across all your devices."
The Work Assistant beta is 2 MB in size, and was last updated on December 2, 2014, according to the Windows Phone Store page about the app. It works on Windows Phone 8.1 devices and requires information on users' appointments, contacts, Internet connection and microphone.
It's not entirely clear what the Work Assistant's connection is with Microsoft's other "assistant": Cortana. During Microsoft's Windows 10 event in Redmond in late January, officials showed off the ability for Cortana to do things such as fetch a PowerPoint deck from a user's own OneDrive storage system, simply by having a user ask (by voice) for slides for a particular meeting.
One of my contacts said that the Work Assistant is simply meant to bring Cortana's voice-search capabilities to the coming touch-first Office apps for Windows.
Cortana is integrated into Windows Phone 8.1 and will be integrated into Windows 10 and Windows 10 mobile for Windows Phones and smaller tablets. Larson-Green also has said that Cortana will be coming to iOS and Android in some way, though didn't provide a timeframe.