Windows 10 Tips, Tricks and Features: Part 1 – Cortana

In All, Uncategorized by Mike Abbott


These days it can feel as if there is a never-ending barrage of software updates to deal with. Each one of these updates forces you to spend time learning about what has changed and to modify your behavior accordingly. In the short-term, this can be infuriating – like when you are already late to a meeting and it takes you even longer to get to your destination because you have to stop and figure out how to use the new version of the map application on your phone. When confronted with a situation like this (and we all are at one point or another) it can feel like software updates cause more problems than they solve.

However, as a general rule, technology improves steadily over time and Windows 10 is an excellent example of this fact. It represents a major improvement not only to Windows 8 which, to be honest, received mixed reviews from consumers, but also on the wildly popular and much beloved Windows 7 operating system. In many ways, it takes the best features of Windows 8 and places them into a framework that is familiar to users of Windows 7, forming something that is essentially the best of both worlds. On top of that, Windows 10 includes a number of significant under the hood improvements related to speed and security.

Microsoft announced about a year ago that Windows 10 would be a free update for users of Windows 7 and 8 for a limited time. A couple of weeks ago they announced that this offer will expire July 29th 2016. We know that many individuals are still unsure as to whether or not they should install this new OS, so we are pleased to announce that we will be making a series of blog posts about Windows 10 in order to help those who are undecided make an educated decision. This happens to be the first post in that series and it will focus on Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant.

Cortana is easily the most entertaining feature of Windows 10, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that it has some seriously useful functionality built in. To get started, there are a few different ways to launch your new digital assistant. Off to the right of the windows/ start menu icon, you will see a tab with a circle icon on the left, the phrase “Ask me anything” in the center and then a microphone icon on the far right. If you click on this tab or hit the windows key on your keyboard, you can type in your query. You also have the option of clicking on the microphone icon and speaking to the computer or simply calling out, “Hey Cortana” followed by whatever you wish to say if you would prefer to dictate your request. In order to use the voice activated function, you will of course need a microphone and to have the “Hey Cortana” function enabled in settings. When this function is first activated, you will have the ability to teach it your voice so that it only responds to you, or you can set it to respond to anyone who says, “Hey Cortana.”

Now that you know how to activate Cortana, we can begin discussing what it can do for you. To get a quick summary of its features, click on the Cortana Search Box and then on the question mark icon off to the left to see a list of its functions and the specific commands that allows you to access them. For the purpose of this blog post, we are going to focus on a couple of features which we have found to be most useful.

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One of the benefits of having a personal assistant is increased productivity, and this is an area where Cortana shines. Being able to add reminders and calendar events quickly, easily and without having to stop working on the task with which you are currently engaged can definitely help you streamline your workflow. As long as you include the phrase “calendar event” or the word “reminder,” Cortana does a really great job of extracting the pertinent details and responding accordingly. For example, when I said, “Hey Cortana, pick up Christa from the airport next Friday at 7:30 PM Calendar,” it was enough for Cortana to understand that I was trying to create a calendar event and execute the command flawlessly.

Having mentioned the ability to create calendar events and reminders, now is a great time to discuss an additional but extremely relevant feature of Cortana – its integration not only with Windows Phones, but with those running Android and iOS as well. If you don’t have a Windows Phone, all you have to do is download the Cortana application and you can use Cortana on your mobile device. It is important to keep in mind that Cortana is able to create reminders based on locations, times and even contacts. This means that you can say things like, “Remind me to congratulate John Doe on his promotion the next time we speak on the phone,” or “Remind me to turn off the air conditioning when I leave home,” and your device will notify you at the appropriate time. Of course, John Doe would have to be in your contacts, and you would need to enter your home address in Cortana’s notebook for these particular examples to work properly.

iOS screenshot Cortana

What is Cortana’s notebook? Glad you asked – this is a feature that sets Cortana apart from the digital assistants created by Apple and Google. It allows you to manually enter information about things like what kind of restaurants you prefer (romantic or kid-friendly), what type of events interest you (music, sports, theatre etc.) and what sports teams you follow. It combines this information with a tremendous amount of data that it gleans from things like your internet search history and provides you with results that are tailored for and relevant to you. That way, Cortana can begin to figure out exactly what you mean when you say things like, “Who won the game last night?” In this example, Cortana would look through the teams that you follow, determine if any of them played the previous night and if so provide you with the result of that match.

Returning to the subject of productivity, Cortana possess a slew of search functions that are incredibly useful. One example is the ability search for and open applications and files without pausing to click on the start/ Windows menu or open up file explorer before you do so. Being able to launch applications with a voice command is particularly useful if it is an application that you use infrequently and don’t keep in the dock. Cortana can also help you open documents and other files that are difficult to find. You can even locate documents by searching for keywords that aren’t in the filename of a document. In order to do so you bring up Cortana by pressing the Windows key or clicking the Cortana tab in the bottom left, then click “my stuff,” type in the keyword you wish to search for and hit enter. This will bring up a list of files that contain that keyword.

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This is far from a comprehensive guide of what Cortana can do for you; suffice it to say that this new digital assistant will increase your productivity, can sync with your mobile devices, learn subtle nuances about your behavior, and can be taught quite a bit about your preferences so as to provide you with assistance that is relevant to and useful for your individual needs.

We look forward to telling you much more about all of the wonderful features of Windows 10. In the meantime, don’t forget that this upgrade is only free until July 29th so you should probably start thinking about getting it installed in the very near future. If you have any questions about the upgrade process, feel free to contact us – we would love to be a resource for you and your business.