Starting with Windows 10 version 1607—which you get by applying the Anniversary Update—Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant, is no longer disabled by default. But what if you don’t want Cortana? Is it possible to disable this feature anymore?
The short answer is no. But the more nuanced answer is this: It doesn’t matter in the slightest.
Sign up for our new free newsletter to get three time-saving tips each Friday — and get free copies of Paul Thurrott's Windows 11 and Windows 10 Field Guides (normally $9.99) as a special welcome gift!
"*" indicates required fields
Truth is, I don’t use Cortana all that much, and I never use it on the PC. So I became aware of this change in the course of updatingWindows 10 Field Guide for this release. (In fact, I just posted a Cortana update over the weekend.) I tweeted my surprise a few months back, and verified with others that I was seeing what I thought I was seeing: Cortana can no longer be disabled in version 1607.
The quiet escalation of Cortana into a core Windows 10 feature has, of course, always been inevitable. And while these capabilities will continue to evolve in future Windows 10 versions, for now, we have a few options if the goal is to minimize this intrusion.
That is, we can ensure that this feature is not tied to the personal information contained in our Microsoft accounts. And we can simply hide the Cortana UI.
To understand what’s changed, consider the first two versions of Windows 10—1507 and 1511—where Cortana was in fact disabled by default and you had to explicitly enable Cortana before you could use this feature. You did so by selecting the Cortana button on the taskbar and stepping through a simple wizard. During this wizard, you had to agree to let Cortana collect and store information about you so that your preferences could sync between devices.
This explicit permission was particularly notable in an OS that came under a lot of undeserved criticism for violating users’ privacy. But even those who chose an Express Setup when first running Windows 10 would need to manually enable Cortana later. Microsoft, despite the complaints, wasn’t violating anyone’s privacy.
And they still aren’t. But nonetheless, Cortana has changed.
If you upgrade to Windows 10 version 1607 from a previous Windows 10 version, Cortana’s Microsoft account integration will be configured as it was before. That is, if you previously enabled Cortana, it will still be connected to your Microsoft account. However, if you did not previously use Cortana, this feature will still be enabled automatically after the upgrade, meaning you will now get the Cortana user experience, not basic search as before. And there is no way to go back to the basic search functionality that was previously offered in Windows 10.
If you clean install Windows 10 version 1607—and sign-in with a local account or a Microsoft account, it doesn’t matter—Cortana is likewise now enabled and cannot be disabled. And when you select the Cortana search box or button, the Cortana pop-up UI appears whether you want it or not: You can’t go back to the basic search functionality that was previously offered in Windows 10, even if Cortana isn’t integrated with your Microsoft account.
If you are signed-in to Cortana and don’t want to be, you can sign-out. That’s easy enough, though Microsoft really makes you work for it. To do so, open Cortana, and navigate ponderously to Notebook, About Me, select your user account, and then select the “Sign out” link. After some begging, you’ll be free. Cortana is still there, it’s just not connected to your account.
The inability to disable Cortana and return to the basic search functionality rankles some. That’s understandable. But you can simply hide Cortana, too. Just right-click the taskbar and choose Cortana and then Hidden. Fixed.
Note: As has always been the case, Cortana is available only in certain locales and in certain languages. So those who don’t live in Cortana-enabled markets won’t need to deal with this issue for the short-term.