THE HELP DESK
My Night with Cortana
by Sophia Guevara
I recently purchased a used laptop from a university surplus store. Until then, the devices in my home were using the Android OS. This purchase let me get reacquainted with Microsoft solutions (the desktops I had access to at the public library until a few months ago were using open source software). While getting comfortable with the laptop, I learned about Microsoft’s Cortana. For those of you who are unaware of Cortana, it is described as a “personal productivity assistant” on the Microsoft website. What are some of the tasks that Cortana can do?
TRYING IT OUT
According to a Cortana support page, you can use Cortana to help with scheduling, join an online meeting via Microsoft Teams, find out about people who work in your organization, and do a few other things. Doing some more research, I found another support page that says Cortana would not be supported as a mobile app after Jan. 31, 2020—for both Android and iOS. But luckily, I now had the laptop.
By selecting an option in Settings, I could get Cortana to respond to “Hey Cortana.” This reminded me of a similar phrase used for assistants made by Amazon and Apple. After trying out the phrase a few times, I learned that Cortana was returning searches using the Bing search engine. Curious to see if I could have it bring up Google results, I said, “Hey Cortana, access the Google search engine.” It provided a result consisting of pointers for making Google a default search engine. I was hoping that it would open a page with Google already available, but that was not the case. I asked, “Hey Cortana, what is the best search engine?” The response was, “Bing bing bing! We have a winner!”
I then asked, “Why are you named Cortana?” and the response was, “I’m named after Cortana, a character in the Halo game series on Xbox. She’s an artificial intelligence, like me.” Asking “What do you think about Alexa?” gave me the response, “I think it’s cool that she’s out there trying to make people’s lives a little easier.” When I asked when Cortana began, the result was its release date of April 2, 2014.
I wanted to see if Cortana would play music. Saying “Hey Cortana, play Beyonce’s ‘Diva’” got me a message that said music could be played, but I would need to sign in so that it would have the permission needed to search what was in my music collection. I tried a different tactic, saying, “Hey Cortana, play Beyonce’s ‘Diva’ on YouTube.” It responded with video results from YouTube for that song. Conversely, when I tried to get Cortana to identify the song when I played it on my smartphone, it let me know that it didn’t hear any music it recognized.
I asked Cortana to help me get dinner delivered. The response was, “I’d be glad to help you find that place. I’ll just need a few things. I need your location to help.” I received a request to let Cortana collect and use my location and location history. Deciding to try this a different way, I asked Cortana to open up Uber Eats. That was successful. How about if I changed my mind about delivery and wanted to take a short walk to a nearby restaurant, but was unsure about rain in the forecast? I asked Cortana about the weather, but was shown results for a location far away. When I asked what the weather was like in Ann Arbor, Mich. (where I live), the information I was looking for showed up.
Wondering if Cortana could open up the software I needed to write this column, I asked it to access OpenOffice. The response was a question to clarify what I wanted. The options were Microsoft’s Office, OpenOffice, or OpenOffice Writer. After saying “OpenOffice Writer,” a new document was automatically opened for me. Curious to see if Cortana could help me voice-type content into my OpenOffice Writer document, I asked how I could open up voice typing. The results provided videos that were about the topic. From those videos, I learned to open an onscreen keyboard that responded to voice and worked with OpenOffice Writer. I was impressed with the accuracy of it and wondered if it was faster to write this way instead of typing the document.
I find Cortana to be helpful and, sometimes, entertaining. While I didn’t get an opportunity to use it on a mobile device, the experience on the laptop was a good one. I would encourage those who have Cortana available on their computers to give it a try.