Updated: February 9, 2015
So far, I've interested you with a very long review of Windows 10 Preview Build 9926, which brings Halo-game Cortana nerdonics to your desktop. Imagine that, geeks getting all shivery by listening to a slightly robotic female voice. Oh, the subtle pointlessness of human existence.
I want to explore this technology some more, because it's not just about AI and voice search and other buzzwords like cloud. It's also about the future direction of operating systems and somewhat forced integration of moronity and remote computation into your everyday devices. Internet of Things (IoT) becoming Idiots of Tomorrow (IoT). Let's see if there's any merit to a digital woman bossing you around.
First steps first
So we talked about initial setup. Must, use, Microsoft, account. Online or GTFO. Then, briefly, we talked about what the tool can do. Siri, I mean Cortana, can do math, answer some prearranged questions slash stupid cubicle jokes, do basic math, basic contextual searches, offer recommendations on flight, travel, food, weather, and such, and perform generic queries the way you'd use any online search engine.
Voice command works fine, but you must tweak your microphone privacy settings, you must speak slowly and use PG-rated English, and anything that's not in mainstream dictionary will be useless. Text is fine, like any search.
You can tell Cortana what to call you, as well as tweak what she does and displays. If you go for hilarious movie references, your desktop experience will be rich in joy.
You can also choose whether Cortana ought to track information in your emails, which she can then correlate to other things, and hopefully present you with meaningful advice and recommendations, regarding flights, hotel bookings, car rentals, packages, etc. This also means there will be another application intruding on your personal correspondence, and you don't want Microsoft to really know you bought that black silicon wossname on Ebay recently.
You can also setup other things. Reminders, among other things. The Notebook is actually a list of categories for which Cortana can offer suggestions. It sounds cool, but my initial exploration confirms my disdain for this kind of thing. First, I don't want my temperature displayed in Imperial Rebels units, how retarded is that. Second, why do I care what happens to some Utah family. Why would this get my day started? Why do I give half a shit about anything that is happening anywhere in this world? Local news, proving I'm an expert. What? Is this some kind of a TV show for morons? Don't want.
If you want to filter all of this crap out, then you need to do a bit of work, until you get a simple clean view, devoid of any IQ < 100 nonsense. However, you have to give credit to Microsoft. At least, they LET you turn everything off. You have the option to not get any of the digital vomit down your throat. Still, the fact you need to work hard to clean up the search assistant view goes against the idea of having a search assistant in the first place, does it not?
But February made me shiver, with every ad it'd deliver
What am I trying to say? Well, Microsoft is trying to promote their new product. The sure way of NOT doing that is by telling me about dead families, yet more war in Middle East and children dying of flu, even after getting vaccine. The last one only shows how inbred most people are, if they possibly think that generic diseases with millions of mutations can be stopped with vaccination against very specific strains, that there won't be complications and corner cases, and that nutjobs will get going about how vaccines are dangerous and similar diarrhea. Thank you so much Microsoft for adding me to the wonderful world of people with unpaired chromosomes.
Note: Sad things are sad, and I have no intention of disparaging the suffering of people out there. But I sure don't want to be reading hillbilly headlines on my fine, fine computer. Therefore, if and when I feel like partaking in the world's miseries in my own private way, then I will. Until then, any attempt by companies to put me in the mediocrity box with their lowest common denominator fascistic mantras and Silicon Valley attitude slash ignorance that sees people as walking wallets slowly moving from one outlet to another food chain restaurant while fearing acronyms and stockpiling for the upcoming zombie apocalypse will be met with fierce resistance.
I don't want to have my desktop show me suffering and stupidity and sensationalist fear mongering. I want my desktop to be a calm, pleasant experience. Microsoft is not doing itself a favor by coinciding bad experiences from outside its sphere of domain with my own desktop experience. It's called conditioning, and I will start associating Cortana with world shit, and that goes against the idea of having a desktop e-lady narrate and tell you stuff and what, right.
Weather forecast also needs improvement. Weather right now. Where? Why? What about using metric units? Why do you show me the stupid Fahrenheit stuff? METRIC! If this system is correlated to would-be my location, then it knows I'm in a country that uses the METRIC system, and therefore, the data should be displayed accordingly. I am not in the US, and therefore, I don't want to use the 16th Century units. Get this shit right.
And this is what Cortana SHOULD look like when launched. Then, it should politely ask whether I'm interested in some local merchandise, some news, and so forth. Do it the other way around. Do not violate my orifices and ask if my throat tickles.
On the other hand, if you dig this kind of thing, then you can add more interests, and tweak Cortana's filters to help you around. I haven't tested this, as I'm capable of independent thought, therefore I will leave the impressions on lifestyle assistance to sites that write their articles with extreme political correctness, lest they anger the sensitive crowds and shareholders.
You can disable Cortana. Make it go away. But what you will get instead is a generic Bing search right there, inside your desktop. And whenever you open it, you will see several shitty titles, including the mandatory zombie reference for retards, did I tell you not, as well as the Bing image of the day, OMG, I couldn't care less if a badger was trying to hump my leg. Or more?
At the moment, you cannot really turn this off, hence Classic Shell, as we mentioned in the full review. You can personalize your online account settings and opt out toward a less aggressive policy with all these ads and suggestions, but in the preview build, the headlines and images of the day remain there, polluting your desktop. A violation of senses. More in a separate article. Coming soon in theaters near you, or something.
Now, the interesting part. Does this thing work? Well, it sort of does. I did give you some pointers and teasers in the original article on Build 9926, but here we will elaborate some more. Elaborate and listen, hihi.
You can do math. Neat. You can also talk to Cortana, but this requires the microphone to be configured correctly. We will talk about this in a privacy-related article on Windows 10 very soon.
You can also search for images. Not bad, overall. It does a pretty decent job of finding items locally, and you can also send queries online, if you feel like. You can also ask Cortana several predefined questions. For instance, is it better than Google, and then it will tell you how it's going to help save the galaxy and such. This is so nerdy I want to staple my cheeks to a wall.
Should your search return empty, you will have an option to browse specific categories, like Apps, Photos, Settings, Email, and more, or even search online. This is very much like Ubuntu and what it's trying to do with Dash.
Yes, we mentioned that, and it's a big part of what Cortana can do. Shouting at your computer is a sign of a pending doom, right, but still, it's something to do when you are forever alone at home.
You will have to allow applications to use your microphone, most notably Search. We talked about this in my Windows 10 & keylogging drama piece, so if you did turn off the peripherals back then, you might want to switch them on now, otherwise Cortana will complain. The error message will not be really useful of meaningful.
You must speak relatively slowly and clearly. Voice detection is decent, but not as good as what I have on my LG smart TV, where you can speak fast, and yet, the recognition is really amazing. If you rattle a long and complicated string of words, Cortana will take her time thinking.
If you search for references and quotes, Cortana will launch the browser - your default one, and then forward the query to Bing. Not bad, but it can be risky if you are searching for your own smut. And most importantly, while thinking, Cortana will turn into Eye of Sauron, so there's that. Coincidence? Probably not.
Curse words don't work, at all. Shame. Foreign languages, phrases, forget it.
The overall design of the narrow vertical rectangle that Cortana is can definitely benefit from some stylistic improvements. For instance, if you invoke the Cortana settings menu from the new Settings windows, you will get a fairly ugly overlap of the two. This does not look cool.
Another problem is the padding of the text inside Cortana. I guess Microsoft devs did not anticipate anyone calling themselves with super very long names, which is why the greeting message looks weird. Microsoft devs, read this carefully:
The 'What's on your mind, name' is centered. The padding is wrong, especially on the right side, as it almost touches the border and the slider. The next line of text is left centered, and this does not look cool. Either you left or center both, and make sure the padding is equidistant, plus that it obeys some kind of golden ratio or whatnot. At least an extra letter of free space on the right, at least.
If you curse when searching with Cortana, she will get so confused that the text padding will get all garbled. The text will actually touch the sides of the search box, which is utterly ugly. Needs to be fixed.
Another problem is that Cortana sometimes associates programs with wrong icons. For instance, try to launch regedit.exe after searching for it using Cortana, and it will display with a Firefox icon. Why? It even says Windows application. And for those asking how come I always find out stuff that others do not, Windows and Linux? The answer is, I'm a thorough little bugger, and this is why my articles always show problems, and they are not the fault of the author, I'm afraid.
Now, I was pretty harsh here, and the thing is, Microsoft is an angel compared to what other advertisement-happy companies are doing out there. All of the stuff above can be tweaked, turned off completely. You can even not use an online account if you want. So yes, the products can be retarded and pointless, but you have the CHOICE.
It is important to remember this. One of the chief reasons why I do not use Android phones is the almost absolute integration of phone services with your online account. We can't really compare desktops with smartphones, and Windows Phone also comes with a bunch of online crap, but again, the level of intrusiveness is so much lower.
On the desktop, Cortana could be a useful product, but the whole attitude of information overload, mandatory sign ins, extra suggestions and correlations, and most of all, unneeded stuff that targets generic audiences, all of it must be toned down. Heavily.
Cortana is an interesting feature, and a bold attempt to conquer the desktop with something that hails from the brutal consumeric world of phones. But after several hours of playing with Cortana, the mobile-inspired novelty wears off, and the whole idea of smart AI making your life easier sort of becomes irrelevant. Then, you ask yourselves, are you that much of a nerd that you need a female digital voice to make your life meaningful?
This little AI assistant has its merits, including decent diversity of search categories, good recognition of voice, meaningful text searches and cool math functionality. But the visual piece needs improvements, the overall integration is flaky at best, and there is room for even better voice recognition and, of course, additional languages. Then, the aggressive nature of Bing advertising needs to be solved, because people will give up on what is essentially a good idea turned into stupid forced cramming of paid content down their throats. No one wants their desktop as an ad banner, and the trauma of IE toolbars all over the place is too fresh for such an attempt. It won't work. A more subtle approach is needed.
Well, there you go, I've given all the advice I could, including some serious suggestions on how to make Cortana look and behave more reasonably. Finally, this is still a beta product, and hopefully my words will find a keen ear in the development and management crowds over at Redmond. Overall, Cortana is neat, but truly, down to earth, unnecessary. But you just might like it. Dedoimedo out.