Contributor(s): Eddie Lockhart

Cortana is Microsoft's digital assistant program. Like Apple’s digital assistant Siri, Cortana responds to natural language and can perform a variety of organizational tasks for the end user, including setting reminders, scheduling calendar events, calculating math problems and converting measurements and money. End users can manage what information Cortana can access. If the user does not want to use Cortana at all, the program can be turned off. Because Cortana’s memory is nonvolatile, user preferences the program gathers are available if and when the user decides to turn Cortana back on later. Cortana saves user preferences in a storage area called Notebook.

On Windows smartphones, Cortana can initiate phone calls, send and read text messages and answer questions using the Bing search engine. Users can launch Cortana by tapping the Cortana app or the search icon. An active listening feature also allows the user to simply say, "Hey Cortana" to launch the program without touching the phone.

On Windows 10 desktops, Cortana can open programs, find files, and read or send email messages. Users can either type a request to Cortana or turn on the microphone and speak to the program. Cortana integrates with Microsoft's new Web browser, Microsoft Edge, and Internet Explorer (IE). Microsoft delivers Cortana's updates independently from Windows 10 operating system  updates so Cortana can receive updates more frequently.

Cortana has an application programming interface (API) and can work with a variety of Universal Windows apps, as well as third-party apps such as Facebook and Twitter. In addition, administrators can use the API to customize their line of business or in-house apps to interact with Cortana. Cortana, which was originally developed for Windows Phone 8.1, is named after a female artificial intelligence (AI) character in Microsoft’s Halo video game series.

This was last updated in August 2015

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