Windows 10 ships with Microsoft’s new personal digital assistant, Cortana, in several locales, offering a more personalized search and help experience. But like any digital assistant, Cortana needs to get to know you a bit before she can be truly useful to you. Here’s how to get started.
To be clear, Cortana is a big topic, and this tip only covers the basics of configuring this feature. I’ll be examining Cortana more in future articles.
Here’s what you need to know about configuring Cortana.
Cortana only works in some places. Cortana is available in Windows 10 in just seven countries, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, though more are coming later in 2015. If Cortana isn’t available where you live, or is turned off, you can still use search.
Cortana is off by default. You need to enable Cortana before you can use this feature. To do so, select the Cortana (or Search) button on the taskbar and step through the simple wizard. You will need to agree to let Cortana collect information about you, which will be stored in the cloud so that Microsoft can sync your preferences between devices. (In addition to working with Windows 10, Cortana is also available on Windows phone and will soon be available on Xbox One too.)
You can access Cortana from the taskbar. By default, Cortana is available via the Cortana search box on the taskbar. However, you can configure Cortana as a button instead, or you can simply disable Cortana on the taskbar and still use it with your keyboard or mouse (as explained below). To change how Cortana works on the taskbar, right-click an empty area of the taskbar and select Cortana and then the option you prefer.
You can access Cortana from the keyboard. To access Cortana from your keyboard, press WINKEY and just start typing. Or, if Cortana is not visible on your taskbar, just type WINKEY + C.
You can access Cortana with your voice. Using a feature called “Hey, Cortana,” you can trigger Cortana searches by saying—wait for it—“Hey, Cortana.” This feature obviously requires a working microphone. But you must also enable it first too. To do so, open Cortana Settings (either using Cortana/Start search or by selecting Notebook and then Settings from the Cortana UI. You can even fine-tune Cortana to only listen to your voice by using a simple wizard.
You can access Cortana from Start. Microsoft also conveniently places a Cortana tile on Start so you can’t miss this feature.
Spend some time bulking up your notebook. Cortana stores the information she knows about you in a virtual notebook. You can access this notebook, and configure information about yourself—favorite locations, which is useful for commute help, plus of ton of other information. So step through each of the categories—Eat & Drink, Events, Getting Around, and so on—and configure it accordingly. That way, Cortana can work for you, proactively.
Cortana works in Edge too. I’ll be writing about this separately, but Cortana is integrated with the new Edge browser in Windows 10 too.
Once Cortana is set up properly, she can alert you when you need to leave for work or upcoming flights, recommend nearby restaurants, remind you about your next meeting and other events, and lots more. You can also create reminders right in Cortana. Which is of course the subject of a future tip.