In the last few years Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system has shipped with a revamped, AI-powered search engine. In 2015, the company revealed that the Cortana AI they had been working on for the Windows Mobile platform was coming to the desktop, and Cortana began talking to millions of desktop PC users around the world (at least, she did to those who didn’t have problems with their accent and were using the correct region settings). Over the years, Microsoft has failed to bring Cortana to more countries and a wider audience as they had promised, and her ability to work in different regions with languages other than English has been a fruitless exercise. It looks like they’re getting ready to split up Cortana’s responsibilities in Windows 10 19H1, and one can only hope that this means the search functionality gets fixed at the same time.
According to a post highlighting the change from a Twitter account called thebookisclosed, some Windows 10 19H1 images in the Fast Ring for Windows Insiders included a lot of changes that went unannounced by the Windows Insider team, including the ability to selectively hide either the Search or Cortana button. In Windows 10, Cortana’s search engine which was more suited to interfacing with search engines was also tasked with local file discovery, and this didn’t work out so well. Searching for local files and apps using the expected letters didn’t always return the right results. Cortana’s button also served as the search button, so it wasn’t clear that you were interacting with the AI assistant instead of a regular search box.
In recent months, Cortana’s abilities have been extended thanks to integration with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, in addition to Cortana gaining additional skills and functionality. Most of that is tied into Cortana’s office integration, where she stealthily suggests layout designs and intelligently helps manage your document layouts. Responsibility for managing the Cortana project fell under the leadership of the Microsoft Cloud Services team earlier this year with a company-wide restructuring, and this ties Cortana’s future in with Office 365 and Azure services. It’s unlikely that she’ll go away completely, because Cortana powers a lot of voice functionality for Windows 10 that cannot be easily removed or replaced, but at least you don’t have to use her for future searches where she tries to include web results for files and applications you have locally.
Other improvements that are either not called out or subject to A/B testing on 19H1, according to thisbookisclosed, include further deprecation of Control Center items and functionality in favour of the Settings and Action Center menus, the ability to move voice calls answered on your desktop, laptop, or phone to another device using Windows Timeline features, support for security keys in Windows Hello, music controls on the volume button in the task bar, and further componentisation of parts of the Windows shell to improve reliability. Microsoft isn’t saying when 19H1 will land, but at least a six month release window is better than a tight one month deadline twice a year.