Microsoft

The pros and cons of Cortana in Build 9926 of Windows 10

Greg Shultz takes a look at Cortana in Build 9926 of Windows 10 and wonders why there isn't more desktop functionality in this build.

Cortana

After the Windows 10: The next chapter event on January 21, I must say that I was pretty excited! Finding out that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for the first year after launch for people running Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 (Windows Phone 8.1 too) is awesome news. I was also excited to begin investigating the possibilities that Cortana could bring to the desktop. However, I must admit that I have been a bit disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I think that Cortana is an amazing piece of technology, but after all the noise that Microsoft has been making about Cortana, I had expected more from this first release on the desktop. Of course, I didn't expect Cortana to be fully functional at this point in the game, but I was really hoping for more desktop functionality.

Let's take a closer look at the Cortana UI and what it's capable of at this point. Then, I'll share what I was hoping for and explain why.

Getting started

When you first launch Build 9926 of Windows 10, you'll see that Cortana is positioned on the taskbar right next to the Start button and prompting you to ask her anything. When you click the box for the first time, Cortana will ask you what she should call you (Figure A). She'll then say your name and ask you if it sounds correct.

Figure A

Figure A

One of the first thing that Cortana will do is ask you for you name.

Asking questions

You can then start asking Cortana questions. To do so, you click the microphone icon and ask a question, such as "What is the weather?" In this case, Cortana responds verbally and displays a bit more detail in her window (Figure B). As you ask a question, you can see Cortana analyzing your speech and putting together the words you have spoken. She is very fast and amazingly accurate. Her pronunciation is also quite spectacular.

Figure B

Figure B

Cortana provides a nice display of the weather.

As I began asking more and more questions, I discovered that while Cortana would respond verbally to some of them, for the majority of the questions that I asked, she passed the query on to Bing (Figure C). While doing so is fine in a lot of circumstances, there are others where I would have just preferred an answer. For instance, when I asked "What time is it?" she passed me on to a Bing search results page, which did indeed display the current time, but it would have been better if she just told me.

Figure C

Figure C

Passing the query on to Bing is fine in many instances.

While clicking the microphone icon to ask a question isn't bad, there's a more spontaneous way to get Cortana's attention. I'll call it the "Hey Cortana" setting. You go to the menu in the Cortana window, select Settings, and turn on the Hey Cortana setting (Figure D). Enabling this feature allows you to access the personal assistant simply by saying "Hey Cortana." This is a pretty cool feature but, at this stage, it's still a bit buggy — it only worked about half the time I tried it.

Figure D

Figure D

Enabling the Hey Cortana setting allows you to spontaneously get Cortana's attention.

Other features

In this build, Cortana has several other very neat features. For instance, you can have Cortana set reminders, provide news, weather, events, and more in a daily glance view, keep track of your favorite places and show them on the Maps app. These other feature work to varying degrees but show promise. I'll keep an eye on them and see how they improve over the next couple of builds.

The downer

As I mentioned earlier, I didn't expect Cortana to be fully functional at this point in the game, but I was really hoping for more desktop functionality. More specifically, I was hoping that the Build 9926 version of Cortana would be able to help me do some of the more common things that I do just on my desktop, like launching applications, searching for a files, or changing settings. However, Cortana was unable to do any of those things. When I ask Cortana to launch an app, such as Notepad or Calculator, she instead passed my request over to Bing, which provided search results. The same thing happened when I asked for Control Panel or Settings. When I asked Cortana to find or search for files, I either got an empty results panel or the search was passed over to Bing. What a bummer.

Again, I must reiterate that Cortana is a great piece of technology and can perform some very neat tasks, but I couldn't help but wonder why the developers would go to all the trouble to bring Cortana to the desktop without spending a great deal of time endowing this new tool with great desktop skills — especially for this particular debut. So, I guess I'll just have to wait for the next build.

What's your take?

Have you tried Cortana in Build 9926? What are your thoughts on how Cortana works? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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