What we know as Windows 9 (or codename Threshold) will finally be publicly unveiled by Microsoft in the next few hours. But thanks to numerous leaks over the past year, we know a decent amount already regarding the features that are going to be included; such as the long-awaited return of the Start Menu, having windowed Modern UI apps on the Desktop, a new notifications center, and multiple/virtual Desktops to name a few. If you haven’t already, you can read all of our Windows 9 coverage here.
All these features are of course welcome improvements to what is already a great operating system, in fact, the only operating system that is designed for desktops, tablets, and everything in between. Although, the feature that I’m looking forward to most in Windows 9 is the introduction of our favorite virtual heroine; Cortana. She’s witty, funny, and sets the bar high for what a digital personal assistant should be like on a phone. Cortana can help you set your appointments, send off a quick text, initiate phone calls, and scour the web to answer your questions, which is expected from a virtual personal assistant. The bare minimum by 2014 standards if you like. What sets her apart though is her people-centric capabilities, which are perfectly suited for a device like a phone, which in essence is used primarily for communicating with other people.
Desktops, laptops, and tablets on the other hand are not used for that purpose as much as they once were. Aside from the social networks, gone are the days of communicating with MSN Messenger -- which was once the WhatsApp of its time. Skype is still dominant for video chatting on desktops but with mobile devices outselling PC’s, how long do you think it will take before the tables are turned?
(Cortana in Windows Concept. Courtesy of Avik Biswas)
So the question remains, how useful can Cortana in her current state be in a desktop environment? Not very useful really unless she brings the phone along with her, allowing you to place calls and send text messages from Windows. Apple plans to do just that with OSX Yosemite due this fall, but the feature won’t be part of Siri, so you’ll have to do everything manually. Cortana 1-0, if that happens to be the case.
That can’t be all, Microsoft worked very hard to make Cortana feel right at home in Windows Phone, and we should expect them to do the same in Windows. Thinking about it, having one version of Cortana on Windows and another on Windows Phone means that we’ll have two distinct versions for what will eventually be a “unified” operating system. That’s bound to get confusing, unless Microsoft uses one version of Cortana on both platforms and somehow gives her the ability to execute Desktop commands with the phone and vice versa.
Grabbing your phone and demanding “Cortana! Send this picture I just took to my computer!” will result in her finding the best possible means to do so, whether it’s over Bluetooth, your home network, or email. Or “Cortana! The next time my mom calls when I’m home, send the call to the living room computer” will be a feature that demonstrates both the contextual awareness of me, and the different computers at home. Those are just two examples of how Cortana can be actually useful across platforms.
Maybe I’m hoping for too much, maybe that's something that will become a reality only when Cortana comes out of Beta, however long that may be. What I’m really hoping for though, is a Cortana that is designed for the desktop, and that understands the context in which she operates in. Doing impressions, telling me jokes and singing me songs won’t charm me a second time round. She needs to be and do more in Windows 9 -- a true, smarter, intuitive and much needed successor of Windows Speech Recognition.
It’s going to be an exciting day today, even though it’s just a sneak peek of Windows 9 and we may not learn about all the features that will make the final release, including anything about Cortana. We can still hope. So stay tuned, we’ll be bringing you the latest in Windows 9 as it unfolds.