Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, now has 133 million active users across 115 countries, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revealed on Monday during the Microsoft Ignition Conference. Even more impressive, those users have asked 12 billion questions since Cortana’s launch in 2015 alongside Windows 10.
If you’d like to be able to just bark commands at your PC, open Cortana by clicking the search field in the taskbar and select the Notebook icon in the left-side options pane. Select Settings from the list, then simply enable the Let Cortana respond when you say “Hey Cortana” option. You’ll need an active microphone for this to work, of course.
It isn’t just a voice assistant either — you can also type commands and questions. Open Cortana to see information it thinks you might care about. Cortana provides a lot of passive information, too, even notifying you when you need to leave to make an appointment on time. Kind of like Google Now but on PC, and more interactive, or intrusive, depending upon the user.
Here are some ways you can let Cortana help you.
Set Reminders, perform unit conversions, calculations
Cortana has a powerful built-in reminder feature, but there’s more you can do with these reminders than simply getting a reminder at a specific time.
Use the Reminders icon or say “Remind me” to get started. You can create a reminder and have Cortana remind you about something at a specific time, when you get to a specific location, or when you talk to a specific person. You can also just say something like “Remind me to take my pill at 8pm” or “Remind me to buy milk when I get to [name of a store]” to instantly create a reminder. Conversions and calculations are even easier, just type it in the search bar or speak it to Cortana.
Use Natural Language Search
Cortana supports natural language search for files on your computer. For example, you can ask Cortana to “find pictures from August” or “find documents about Windows” to find pictures from the months of August or document files related to Windows.
It’s the built-in Windows search feature, but with more natural language capabilities.
Shop with Edge
After you install the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, you might just want to make Microsoft’s Edge your go-to browser—at least for shopping.
That’s because if you open a site like Target.com or BestBuy.com in Edge, Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, will often appear and offer to use one of several coupons it found automatically. Now that’s helpful. You will have to enable Cortana to work with Edge however. Just click the menu button, Settings, View advanced settings, Turn on or off the toggle switch for the “Have Cortana assist me in Microsoft Edge” option.
You can also install extensions in Edge now, though the selection is incredibly limited in these early days.
Identify a Song
Like Siri, Google Now, and dedicated apps like Shazam, Cortana can listen to a song playing near you and identify it. Say “What is this song?” and Cortana will use your microphone to listen to the music and match it to a specific song. Obviously, this works well with recorded music but won’t necessarily work with live music.
Cortana uses Bing to provide direct answers to common questions. This is similar to Google’s Knowledge Graph. For example, you can ask questions like “What is the tallest building in the world?” or “Who is the president of the United States?” to get an immediate answer.
Cortana can send emails using the built-in Mail app and the accounts you’ve configured there. Just say “send email” to get started, or say something more specific like “Send email to Pete” if that’s a person in your contacts.
Start playing some music
There are all kinds of commands here: even just “play some music” will shuffle all the tracks you’ve got in Groove. Groove is a must for this to work.
If you want to be more specific you can tell Cortana to play certain artists, albums or songs, or say a genre of music you want to hear. Say “pause music” and “resume music” to stop and start playback, or “play the next track” to jump ahead in the current playlist.
Track your flights and Packages
Here’s another handy trick Cortana can do: tracking flights. Type out the flight numberof the plane you want to track, whether it’s in the air or departing soon, and Cortana gives you a brief overview of its current status. Click on the top result to see more details (like airport terminal numbers) and a live map.
You can type a package tracking number instead of the flight number as well if you want to track a package. There are many different kinds of integrations like this buried in Cortana and Microsoft is adding more all the time. Chances are if you want information that’s available on the web or in your (Microsoft) email or calendar app, then Cortana will be able to dig it out.
Get a List of Commands / Help
Ask Cortana for “help” and you’ll see a list of things you can do with Cortana. This will show you a more complete list.
You’ll find many other options I didn’t list here. For example, Cortana show sports scores and provide predictions, and offer dictionary definitions and translations for words. Microsoft will likely be adding new features to Cortana and improving the existing ones in free updates going forward.