Cortana is billed as more than a simple search feature. It’s supposed to be a full-fledged personal assistant much like Siri is on Apple iOS devices. Here are the basics of setting up Cortana and using it on your new Windows 10 computer.

To use Cortana properly, you’re going to have to enable some privacy settings that we’ve previously discussed, most notably you have to enable the Privacy setting in “Speech, Inking, & Typing”.

Additionally, Cortana require access to your location, which you might have turned off if you read our earlier article.

Once Windows is “getting to know you” and location is enabled, you can start using Cortana though keep in mind, from this point you’re sending Microsoft a great deal of personal data, which is then stored in the cloud. If you’re leery of sharing personal information such as calendar events and contacts, speech patterns, and typing history, then Cortana may not be right for you.

What Cortana Can Do

Cortana is your do-it-all helper, which can deliver sport scores, weather, news, as well as help out with navigation, setting reminders, and more.

Cortana can be accessed by clicking the search feature on the taskbar.

You can adjust the search bar by right-clicking on the taskbar and selecting the style you prefer.

In all our examples, we’ll be using the search box. It’s important to keep in mind that if you have Cortana enabled and you hide it, it will still be active and you can still use it.

When we click on the search box, Cortana will pop open. It will display pertinent information based on your interests and hobbies.

You can also ask it facts and have it perform tasks.

If you click on the “Notebook” icon along the left edge, you’ll be able to further configure Cortana, specifically the information it provides to you.

You can change the name Cortana uses to address you or how it pronounces it, and you can edit your favorite places, which are your “home, work, and other saved favorite locations.”

Cortana may remind you a bit of Google Now because the information it shows are broken down into cards. Cards are divided into twelve categories.

For each category, you can turn cards off or on, which means that if you don’t want to see Cortana tips, you simply turn the tip cards off.

Some tip cards can be configured beyond simply turning them off or on. For example, the “Eat & Drink” card allows you to receive recommendations from Foursquare, add an atmosphere, and so on.

Cortana will also let you add reminders, which can be managed and sorted by time, place, and person.

Finally, if you wish to provide feedback you can submit your ideas, likes, or dislikes to Microsoft as well as include a screenshot if you prefer.

Take some time, go through all these items, particularly the Notebook cards. As you can see, Cortana is highly configurable, but there’s obviously quite a few things you may not use or need to see. For example, you may not have any use for finance info, or maybe you don’t do a lot of traveling.

Beyond that, however, there are other vital settings you can configure, which we’ll talk about in the next section.

Cortana’s Settings

Cortana’s general settings can be configured from the Notebook tab. The first item you can attend to is simply turning it on or off. This won’t affect the privacy settings you’ve already enabled, so, if you don’t want to use Cortana any longer, you can also turn off Speech, Inking, & Typing as well as Location, if you prefer.

Note also, there’s a link to manage cloud data, which you should probably clear out if you decide to forgo the whole Cortana experience.

Cortana can also be activated using your voice. When you say “Hey Cortana” it will react awaiting your next command. You can further configure this to respond best to anyone or just you, but in order to do that, Cortana will first need to learn your voice.

We mentioned earlier that Cortana acts and functions a lot like Google Now. To that end, it can be configured to detect tracking info such as for flights or presumably packages. You can also let it “pipe up” occasionally to give you thoughts and greetings in the search box. These won’t be obtrusive but you may just want it to leave you alone.

Finally, at the very bottom of the settings are further options to manage your Bing SafeSearch settings and other privacy settings.

Take your privacy seriously because Microsoft is asking you to surrender a lot of personal information so that Cortana can work as intended. If you’re not planning on using Cortana then we heartily believe you should not only disable it, but turn off the aforementioned privacy settings.

Cortana is likely to be a something of a paradigm change for the Windows operating system. It gives Microsoft a way to compete with the likes of Siri and Ok Google, and is likely to change the way many users interact with their computers.

Still, it’s going to take some time for Windows users to adapt and Cortana isn’t likely to be the go-to way of interfacing with their computers, at least not immediately. Time will only tell if Cortana actually does fill that usability gap between touch and mouse, but from what we’re seeing, it’s well on its way.

If you have any questions or comments you would like to add, please leave your feedback in our discussion forum.


Profile Photo for Matt Klein Matt Klein
Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He's covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He's even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8.
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