Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) search agent Cortana won’t be answering vocal questions from Irish people when Windows 10 launches on 29 July, but the feature is coming, Microsoft said during a preview of the forthcoming OS.
Cortana is a technology very similar to Apple’s Siri that lets you use your voice to search the web, open apps, find files and set reminders for important tasks to name but a few functions. The name is derived from the AI character in the popular Halo games franchise.
However, Cortana won’t be available to people who speak with Irish accents when Windows 10 launches on 29 July, as the feature will only be made available in major markets like the US, UK, France and Germany at launch.
Microsoft’s Patrick Ward did, however, say that Microsoft is “working on it” and that while no date has been set it is coming.
He explained that Cortana needs to be configured to understand local accents and dialects.
Ward added that users can change their settings to the UK version of Cortana, which recognises Northern Irish accents, but warned that this would affect search results in terms of currency and location data, for example.
An impressive first look at Windows 10’s Cortana revealed just how layered the AI agent actually is in terms of returning lots of information. For example, a search for the word ‘London’ will bring up internet search results as well as other data such as photos tagged ‘London’ stored in the cloud on OneDrive.
Windows 10 preview – first impressions
First impressions of Windows 10 are that it is quite a robust but also very neat and clean-looking operating system that will appeal not only to die-hard Windows 7 users but will keep up the momentum that begun with Windows 8.1.
On first glance, it looks like Windows 7 and Windows 8’s desktop view. But once you click on the Start button a smaller version of the Metro tablet interface pops up that users can configure to add in live tiles of their favourite apps. The new Start button is responsive so you can increase it in size to reflect how many apps you want to access quickly and easily.
Another distinct appearance change is the disappearance of Charms, which contained quick access to settings tools. This has been replaced by an Action Centre that contains all your social media notifications as well as the ability to add in the settings you most rely on such as Wi-Fi, brightness, airplane mode, whatever you want.
Another neat feature is the ability to create new desktops to manage your workflow – such as specific desktops for projects, social media and, of course, the ability to merge them with a flick of the finger or mouse.
Ward said Windows 10 will launch on 29 July and the intention is to have 1.5bn Windows users upgrade to the new OS within two to three years.
While not every user will get Windows 10 on launch day, those who are eager to get the new OS – if they are existing Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 users – can do so by simply registering on the Windows icon on their desktop. What will happen next is Microsoft will scan their machine and if it is in optimum form to receive the new OS they are likely to get it early.
What is nice about the new OS is there is virtually no learning curve if you are moving from Windows 7, for example.
Core changes that will matter a lot in the coming months and years are the arrival of what Microsoft called Universal Apps. These are apps that developers can build once and that can work seamlessly across desktops, mobile devices and even the Xbox One.
For example, the Mail app in Windows 10 will launch at a size that is reminiscent of how it appears on Windows Phone devices but can actually increase in size using responsive design features to be more suitable for desktop use.
Effectively the onset of Universal Apps means Microsoft will create one single Windows Store rather than having separate stores for mobile and PCs. A good example of Universal Apps being launched is the new Minecraft app that works across Windows and Xbox devices.
Microsoft’s new browser Edge is also worth looking at, featuring a minimalistic design that comes with a reader mode for articles as well as a clever way of grouping articles for reading later. One of the things to watch out for is how quickly web pages actually render.
But this does not mean the end of Internet Explorer. While Microsoft will be phasing older versions of Explorer from 12 January 2016, the company says it will be keeping Internet Explorer 11 alive with the ability to launch versions of older Explorer builds in Enterprise Mode.
Ward said the reason for this is that many businesses have applications and services using web standards that depend on Internet Explorer and that these standards will be safeguarded by moving to Internet Explorer 11.
On the gaming front, Windows 10 will come with the latest DivX 12 drivers, which means gamers can stream content from their Xbox to their PC or tablet. The upshot of this is that if you are within the Wi-Fi zone you can continue playing games from your Xbox on your PC.
Another stand-out feature is the new Maps app on Windows 10, which includes beautiful 3D rendering of cities all over the world. It is a fascinating feature worth looking out for.
All in all, Windows 10 looks promising. It is both stylish and robust with plenty of features to keep you occupied even if Cortana won’t be talking to us on day one.