After months of rumors and finally making an appearance at last week's Windows 10 press event, users can finally test Microsoft's digital assistant on the desktop.
Cortana won't be confined to Windows Phone.
After confirming that Cortana would make the leap to the Windows 10 operating system
later this year, Microsoft added the digital assistant to the newest preview build (9926). The newer version is available to members of the Windows Insider program. According to company estimates, 1.7 million "insiders" have taken the OS for a spin.
Several new features made the cut this time, but few as anticipated as Cortana on the desktop.
"You can access Cortana with your voice by clicking the microphone icon, then speaking to set reminders or ask about weather, sports, finance and other content from Bing," said Gabe Aul, Data and Fundamentals lead in Microsoft's Operating Systems Group, in a statement. The icon appears as part of the new integrated search field in the taskbar.
Users can also opt for a more voice-enabled experience. "If you're really adventurous, go into Cortana Settings, enable hands free use to say 'Hey Cortana,' and you won't need to click on the microphone icon," said Aul. For now, Cortana is a little unpolished on Windows 10 and is only available in the U.S. and only in English, although search works in multiple languages.
The return of the Start Menu was an opportunity for Microsoft to do some behind-the-scenes retooling.
"A big change that you won't see is that we actually rebuilt Start in XAML, which is one type of code developers can use to build apps for Windows 10," said Aul. "The work on Start isn't done yet, and we'll have more changes that will show up in future builds including more personalization (and transparency!), drag and drop, Jump Lists, and the ability to resize the Start menu."
A new icon-based Settings app is an evolution of the Windows Control Panel, of sorts, and offers consistency across Windows devices. "We've made the homepage easier to scan and reminiscent of Control Panel, which many of you were familiar with. It's icon-based and we re-organized the categories to be more familiar," said Aul.
Also in this build is Continuum, a feature that automatically adjusts the interface when a Surface Pro or Windows two-in-one device switches between tablet and keyboard modes. "Only Windows 10 lets you seamlessly transition between the familiar desktop and a tablet experience optimized for touch," claimed Aul. "You are always in control of the transition whether explicitly from Action Center or when Windows suggests a change based on how you are using the device."
Rounding out the new features are new Photo, Maps and Xbox apps; a beta of the new Windows Store; and wireless audio and video management.
In February, the OS is headed to phablets. "Next month, we're excited to extend the Windows Insider Program to include Windows 10 Technical Preview for phones as well as PCs, and we'll share more information about how that will work as we ready our first build for broad availability," Aul teased.