New and Improved Features in Windows 10 – Cortana

Editor’s note: The following post was written by Windows Expert -Consumer MVP Mike Halsey. This is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of his newly released book “Windows 10 Primer” used with permission.

NOTE:  This article was based on Windows 10 Technical Preview build 9926 released earlier this year. The screenshots and feature descriptions may vary from the current build and continue to change.  Windows 10 Technical Preview may be substantially modified before it's commercially released. Microsoft makes no warranties, express or implied, with respect to the information provided within.  The Windows 10 Technical Preview may be downloaded here

 New and Improved Features in Windows 10 - Cortana

Every version of Windows comes with new features: Windows 95 introduced the Start Menu; Windows XP saw the OS move to the much more stable NT kernel as well as introducing major refinements to the user interface; Vista came with some major changes, including a wholesale kernel upgrade, a new hardware driver model, and user account control; Windows 7 introduced aero glass, snap, the new Taskbar, and the Action Center; and Windows 8 introduced the Start Screen, Modern apps, and the addition of ARM processor support.

Windows 10 is no different, and the list of new and improved features is both long and significant. Indeed, it can safely be said that the list of new features is the greatest that’s been seen in any Windows release thus far, and almost the entire focus is being placed firmly on productivity.

I’m not going to detail every improved feature and new addition in this chapter, as many of them fall into categories that are much better detailed elsewhere in this book under more specific categories, such as end-user desktop features or business-specific features. There are some major changes and additions, however, that need to be detailed on their own, and in this chapter I’ll look at them in no particular order.




Okay, I lied! I’m hugely excited about the inclusion of Cortana in Windows 10, and thus it has to be detailed first. Cortana is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri and Google Now, in that it’s a personal digital assistant (originally to be called Judy, so I’m told, though its beta name, taken from the AI computer in the Halo series of Xbox games, was so popular with Windows Phone testers that Microsoft kept it).

Cortana first appeared in Windows Phone 8.1 in 2014 and has been slowly rolling out to countries worldwide. Cortana does much more than answer basic search queries and provide the latest news and weather updates. Already ahead of Apple’s Siri and Google Now, Cortana can provide recipes and dietary information, automatically follow parcel tracking information you’ve been emailed, and monitor flights and other travel methods. She (I hate calling Cortana “It”) can set and modify reminders and calendar appointments, as well as set reminders based on location, such as when you get home or when you’re next in the city center. She can provide idle chit chat, sing you songs, tell you jokes, and even speak Klingon.

This is the state of Cortana today, and her functionality is being expanded all the time with new features, some of which (such as being able to bark Klingon at you) aren’t actively promoted but were simply found accidentally by users.

“So how does all of this help me become more productive on the desktop?” you ask. You might, for example, work in a busy office where talking to your PC is never going to be effective, or your PC might not even have a microphone, or you may just be uncomfortable with the prospect of striking up a conversation with the thing.

Typing requests and commands into Cortana brings the same functionality as speaking to her, and being able to quickly ask what appointments you have in the coming week, or to have her reschedule your 3 o’clock appointment for 5, or to dictate to her an email for Sue in Accounts can save valuable time.

Cortana can be found next to the Windows icon on the Windows 10 desktop Taskbar (see Figure 2-1), and will also likely be a Start Screen icon on tablets in the final release.



Figure 2-1. Cortana’s icon is a circle and is located next to the Windows button on the Taskbar

 - Note  It’s likely that Cortana will not be available in every country on Windows 10’s launch, and this is certainly the case with the technical preview. If Cortana is not available to you yet, you will instead see a search (magnifying glass) icon next to the Windows icon.

When you open Cortana you will be presented with information that’s relevant to you (see Figure 2-2). An Ask me anything box at the bottom of her window is where you can type commands, search requests, and more, and next to this is a microphone icon that you can click to enable you to speak to her.



Figure 2-2. By default, Cortana will show you information that’s relevant to you

You will also be able to activate Cortana by simply saying Hey, Cortana while at your computer, though with this feature also reported to be coming to Windows 10 for Phones it remains to be seen how it’ll work should you also have your phone on your desk when you say this.

I want to deal with search first in Cortana, as the search feature that Cortana brings to Windows is a significant improvement over previous Windows versions. When typing into the Ask me anything box, search results are immediately displayed and will include installed apps and win32 desktop programs, photos, music, video, documents, emails, settings, and websites (see Figure 2-3).



Figure 2-3. Search responds immediately when typing into Cortana

You can click any item in these search results to open it, or, alternatively, clicking Search my stuff (or just pressing the Enter key) will display a more detailed contextual search box (see Figure 2-4).




Figure 2-4. Search my stuff provides a more detailed, contextual search

It’s with this contextual search box that the true power of search in Windows 10 is revealed. The box contains a tabbed interface, allowing you to easily and quickly switch your search between documents, apps, settings, photos, videos, music, email, and the Internet.

This search facility combines those found in File Explorer and the Start Menu and improves on both while greatly simplifying the overall process.


Managing Cortana’s Settings and Privacy


You can manage Cortana’s settings and options very easily by clicking the hamburger icon (so called because it consists of three horizontal lines) in the top left of Cortana’s window. Here you can manage any reminders you have set (see Figure 2-5) and any places you want Cortana to know about (should you be using a laptop or tablet), as well as change overall settings, such as allowing Cortana to call you by your name and even turning the feature off altogether.




Figure 2-5. Cortana’s options are easy to find and access

In this age of personal privacy, data protection, and government spying, some of you might be uncomfortable with Cortana having access to all of your emails and other personal information. Cortana is designed to soak up all this information and learn more about you over time to make her more effective.

One of Microsoft’s three pillars for Windows 10 was putting the user firmly in control of their own data and their own privacy, and Cortana is no exception. The information you choose to share about yourself is managed in Cortana’s Notebook (see Figure 2-6).



Figure 2-6. The Notebook is where you manage which information you share

Here, you can manage all the data that Cortana stores about you, including your news preferences, calendar access, whether Cortana is allowed to read your emails for parcel tracking and flight details, and much more besides.

The Notebook isn’t just about your privacy, however; adding and refining the information that’s here can help Cortana provide you with more relevant news and information, thus reducing the need to use news and weather apps or websites.


That Syncing Feeling


Those of you who have been using Windows 8.1 with a Microsoft account will likely be used to the OS syncing your settings and preferences between PCs. For example, if you purchase a new tablet and log in using the same Microsoft Account ID that you use on your desktop, you’ll see your Start Screen and apps are just as they are on that first machine.

Syncing is being extended even further in Windows 10, allowing Cortana on your different PCs, tablets, and phone to share information with one another. This includes your reminders, so you’ll never miss one just because you happen to be away from the PC you set it on, and more besides.

Syncing between different devices can be managed both from within Cortana herself and from the new All Settings panel, which replaces the Control Panel and PC Settings.


About the author

Mike Halsey is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) awardee and the author of many books including “Beginning Windows 8 (and 8.1)” and “Beginning Windows 10” from Apress, “Windows 8 (and 8.1): Out of the Box” from O’Reilly, "Troubleshooting Windows 7: Inside Out", "Troubleshoot and Optimize Windows 8: Inside Out" from Microsoft Press, and "Windows 10 Troubleshooting" from Apress.  He is also the author of other Windows Troubleshooting books from Apress.  He gives many talks on Windows subjects from Productivity to Security and makes help, how-to and troubleshooting videos under the banner PC  You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter as PCSupportTV

About MVP Monday


The MVP Monday Series is created by Melissa Travers. In this series we work to provide readers with a guest post from an MVP every Monday. Melissa is a Community Program Manager, formerly known as MVP Lead, for Messaging and Collaboration (Exchange, Lync, Office 365 and SharePoint) and Microsoft Dynamics in the US. She began her career at Microsoft as an Exchange Support Engineer and has been working with the technical community in some capacity for almost a decade. In her spare time she enjoys going to the gym, shopping for handbags, watching period and fantasy dramas, and spending time with her children and miniature Dachshund. Melissa lives in North Carolina and works out of the Microsoft Charlotte office

Comments (3)

  1. Ben M. Schorr says:

    I love Cortana on my phone and use it often (generally in the car where I can't take my hands/eyes off the wheel/road). Unfortunately on my Win10TP machine it tells me Cortana is not available in my region – I'm guessing that's a swipe at Arizona. 😉

    Anyhow, I'm looking forward to a build where Cortana recognizes Arizona as part of the United States. (and yes, all of my region/language settings are set to USA)

  2. Tcat Houser says:

    Well done and thank you. Hope folks outside IT find this. And a minor correction about digital stone age history…

    It was Windows 2000, not XP that converted from MS-DOS with pretty graphics on top to the DEC VAX dude Dave Cutler's concept for the 5th time as NT which got the WINDOWS mainstream. XP (which I dearly loved) is actually NT. 5.1. If you wish to be Uber accurate, also include the Build Number as well for NT 4 <which brought video from outside security to the kernel & serious CPU SMP improvement. HPFS hold over from OS/2 becomes read only and we get NTFS Version 4, matching the NT #. This is the 1st NT to have the look and feel of Win 95 Start button.

    NT5 gets NTFS 5 with Bit Locker, ActiveX magic calls for Developers to fly through the defense layers of a business class OS we're built so solid and spiffy game developers dropped DOS like a Hot Rock. DOS was favored because there wasn't anything to prevent the game dev to talking directly to the hardware on the graphics card.  ActiveX controls gave the coders much better tools, so the Disk Operating System founded in the 1970's was laid to rest.

    XP (NT 5.1) Is my heart throb. USB workin solid, so is NTFS.SYS (NT 4 NTFS.SYS was Seriously Sub Optimal) and we got Visual Studio. That puts XP in its own spotlight.

    NT 6 (Vista) is the result of Project Managers thinking their poop don't stink. SMB? Whole new version. Same with two incredibly important internal pillars of the kernel: IPC and RPC get whole new versions too. Not enough damage? Add a hand slapping Security UI at every turn. That's lit up everyone but the Devs. What can we do to drive them to madness? OH Yeah!  We're always getting bitched out about our incredible pile of old stuff we're hauling around for backwards compatibility….

    So the hunt for API's dating back to OS/2 is on. Security Mantra. Seek out and destroy old APIs.

    But they didn't really ask the devs what they we're using. NT 6 broke with the past and it wasn't a pretty site for anyone. I was sure glad I was bi-lingual and could speak Mac too.

    NT 7 Continued with the code clean up (which goes on til 8.1) The whole NT concept to me starts looking like a mad armadillo (deflects small arms fire, fast on its mission). Resource needs for NT 7 are within the  ballpark of Linux and hardware prices are falling faster than ever.

    NT 8/8.1 will live forever life in some VM. NT will always be there to play with, like  to keep MSDOS.sys and MSIO.sys alive for DVD, BluRay and Gigabit Ethernet

    wow… I didn't mean to write all that, and I almost dumped it. And you hit a bunch of cools points in a small space. I'm going to post in the hope it helps some Devs someday understand the finer points that might get lost in history.  HTH

    (I still have my MS OS/2 Key Fob come see it in Booths E1 E2 E3) trade show silicon on my key ring 😉

  3. RM66 says:

    This article should talk about the Cortana APIs that allow third party apps to be integrated into Cortana as well.

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