One question that users that upgrade to Microsoft’s latest OS ask is, what is Cortana in Windows 10?
Parachuted in from Windows Phone, Cortana is a built-in personal assistant that, much like Siri on Apple’s iOS, responds to simple voice requests and commands.
Instead of placing a search box in the Start Menu (in Windows 7) or hiding it completely (as was the case in Windows 8), Microsoft decided to stick it front and center on the Taskbar in Windows 10.
This is a smart move, as it’s always there for users to serve up what they want or need to know. For most users clicking on the box will be the first time they get to know the digital voice assistant, as they will be prompted to enable Cortana.
And that is because Cortana and search are pretty much the same in the new operating system.
If anything, the search functionality is just part of the virtual assistant’s remit.
The smart personal assistant is now the default search agent for Windows 10 and can be invoked by pressing Winkey + C (Windows key, the one with the Windows logo) on your keyboard or with a three-finger tap on your touchpad.
Thanks to the speech recognition abilities, it is also possible to simply declare your request by preceding it with “Hey Cortana”. Just make sure the microphone on your device is enabled first, though. This is certainly a plus for tablets that lack a physical keyboard.
You can type in a single word and Cortana will return a list of matching apps, settings and files, along with a list of web results she pulls from across the Internet.
But there’s a lot more you can do. This is only the start.
For example, you can type or ask “What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?” and Cortana will display a forecast. Or say “Remind me to water the plants when I get home”, and you will get a reminder at the appropriate time. She will even ask whether you want to be reminded at a specific time or place.
Thanks to integration with the Bing search engine, Cortana can also show the top news stories, identify music playing, and more. It can also launch apps, set alarms, record notes, play specific music, and even give you directions on a map.
The ‘Daily Glance’ feature displays a summary of your meetings and information about your daily commute, today’s weather and sports scores.
If you allow her, Cortana can also access information from emails, including details like flight numbers, and warn you if there is a delay or heavy traffic on the way to the airport, so you can leave a little early.
In case it can’t answer a question or query directly, Cortana will launch the new Edge browser included in Windows 10 and display search results. This happens quite often, as Microsoft is still refining the service.
But just like in Windows Phone, the company plans to continually roll out updates and feature set improvements for Cortana regularly.
Microsoft is betting big on consistency now, consistency across devices. And as with many features in Windows 10, the voice assistant is also fairly robust — meaning if you set a reminder on your phone, it will pop up on your desktop at the right moment.
This is perfect for busy people, in the sense that they can use their phone in the car to remind them of something when they get back to the office or home, and see it right on their PC.
Overall, it’s great, Cortana is a welcome addition to the platform and one of the biggest draws in Windows 10. Learning to user her capabilities takes a little time, but when you do, you are sure to be more productive.
The more you use Cortana, the better she gets to know you, and more accurate her responses will be. Welcome to the world’s first virtual assistant.