Developed by Microsoft, Cortana is a virtual assistant for the Windows operating system. Cortana is named for the artificial intelligence (AI) system in Microsoft’s Halo video game. In Halo, the fictional AI character Cortana provides players with the backstory and tactical information needed to play. Jen Taylor, the voice actress of Halo‘s Cortana, also serves as the voice of the digital assistant.
Similar to Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant, Cortana uses machine learning and natural language processing to execute voice-activated commands and queries. It also uses the Bing search engine and includes specific features for Microsoft-owned software applications such as Office 365, LinkedIn, and Skype.
Relative to its competitors, however, Cortana lacks one fundamental functionality support for mobile devices. It was originally rolled out with Windows Phone in 2014 but was made exclusive to desktops, laptops, and tablets in 2015. One smart speaker (the Harman Kardon Invoke) was eventually added to the list of supported devices, but the addition did little to make Cortana competitive with other virtual assistants. Because voice assistants are most frequently used when it is either difficult or inconvenient to search for answers to a question, using the Cortana application is rarely an efficient use of time. It is usually easier for users to simply open a browser window and type the search query.
Cortana is not an active feature in Windows 10 by default. It must be manually configured before it can be used effectively. To activate Cortana, users can either launch the Cortana desktop application from the start menu, click the microphone icon from the Windows menu, or speak “Hey Cortana” when the voice recognition setting is enabled.
Cortana offers many personalizations once it becomes familiar with the user’s habits and preferences. Some common uses of Cortana include:
- Set reminders, timers, and alarms
- Search for files
- Search the Web
- Send email messages
- Perform calculations and conversions
- Create calendar events
- Check the weather forecast
- Launch applications