Sunday, August 2, 2015

Windows 10 Day 4: Talking to Cortana

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The thing about doing this daily Windows 10 blog entry articles is that I am able to share what I have discovered over the course of a day using Windows 10 to be productive. Often time when I am evaluating something over the course of a week, some important things will be left behind. Microsoft's new operating system has been out for 4 days now and is reportedly now on 67 million computers worldwide and it's time that I went in a little deeper into the operating system. In the upcoming week I will be looking into some of new productivity tools in Windows 10 and try to form a new workflow with the new features like Virtual Desktops and Task View.
Windows 10 review - Formerly called Project Spartan, the new Edge browser looks nothing like IE other than a few similar design cues. It looks somewhat like Firefox with a Windows 10 theme put over it. Continue reading
But to kick off this weekend edition of my Windows 10 blog entry, I think it is time to talk about the ins and outs of Cortana. In case you missed it, Cortana is Microsoft's very own personal assistant and it has been brought over from Windows Phone and she will be heading to both iOS and Android by the years' end. In Windows 10, Cortana lives in the integrated search bar on your taskbar.
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But before diving into today's topic, I would like to clarify and add on to my previous article about using Windows 10 with a touchscreen (specifically the Surface Pro 3). On Friday, I specifically said that it was not possible to run multiple applications when in Tablet Mode. Well, I was somewhat wrong on this. Turns out that it is possible to run apps in split screen view like on Windows 8 but this only works with some applications like Microsoft Edge and the Calculator app. It is a little tricky to set it up though.


Activating Cortana

Cortana is currently a region specific feature and is only available in the US, UK and China but the good news is it's fairly simple to summon her onto your desktop. So, the first thing you would want to do is go to the Settings app and head over to the Time & language tab. Once you're there, click on the Region & language tab and the first drop down menu on the right will let you change the computer's Country or region. For Cortana to work, you will need to change the Country to lets say the US or even the UK or China but your best bet is to choose United States to experience the generic version.

After doing that, you will need to add United States English as your default system language. Just simply click the Add a language button and look for English and select English (United States). Once you're done with that, just click on the English (United States) under the Languages heading and click Set as default. To round things up, you will then need to download the speech package by going to the Speech tab and download the speech file for English (United States)

The last step is to actually enable Cortana and to do that, just click on the search bar on your taskbar and hit the settings button on the left and the first menu item will let you enable Cortana. And that's it, you're done and Cortana is ready to serve you.

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Change your country to the United States

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Add English (United States)

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Turn on Cortana through the integrated settings menu

Using Cortana

The first thing you should know about Microsoft's personal assistant is that she is powered by Bing and all her internet search results will be based off Bing. But if you don't like that, there is a free Chrome extension to make Cortana search through Google instead of using Bing. It's also worth mentioning that at stock settings, Cortana will open internet search results through the default web browser on Windows 10 which is Microsoft Edge. To change your default browser to something other than Microsoft Edge, go to the Settings app and navigate to the System tab, click on the default apps tab on the left and from there, you will be able to change your default browser to something else.

Cortana is not only a Personal assistant, she is also a universal search bar that is capable of hunting down information from your computer and also from the internet. What makes her powerful is that you can interact with her with natural language either through a microphone or the integrated search bar on your taskbar. You can ask her about things like the weather, time, simple mathematics, facts about famous people and also some fun things like asking here to tell you a joke and doing an impersonation.

But like I said in my Windows 10 review, Cortana also replaces the F1 help and support menu which existed in previous version of Windows. In return, you can now directly ask Cortana things like how to connect to a Bluetooth device or like what is the keyboard shortcut for copying text. Often times, when you type a support question like this, Cortana will simply just suggest you the applications which will complete your task rather than telling you what to do.

This means that if you want to change the default browser to Google Chrome, just type on the search bar "default browser" and viola, Cortana will give you the direct link to change the default browser.

But that's not all about Cortana, she is also a very capable Personal Assistant which will provide you with information based on what you like. Provided that you notify Cortana about your interests through her Notebook feature. Unlike other services like Google Now, you will be able to control what Cortana knows about you like your favorite sports club or you usual commute route. Just like with Google Now, Cortana will also pull data off your Bing searches (well that is if you use Bing) and also sweep through your Outlook to get data like flight information.

All of this information you tell Cortana will be used to optimize the search results and on Cortana's home page, she will list down a feed of articles and updates based on the information that you have provided. The stream of card based information range from weather updates to popular locations around you.

Beyond keeping all your personal information as well as track your reminders on the cloud, Cortana is also integrated into the new Microsoft Edge browser. Although you can't physically see her presence, Cortana is well integrated into every website you visit. on the new Edge browser, Cortana is like a popup search engine which gives you results based on the text you highlight. The good thing is this feature works real well but the bad thing is that you can only experience this through the Edge browser for now.

Overall, Cortana is a very personalized tool. From the moment you tell her your name as well as how to correctly pronounce it, you're well aware that Microsoft wants you to treat Cortana more like a companion rather than just a search box that talks to you. But bottom line, Cortana is still not perfect. Her speech recognition engine is a hit or miss and is no match to the speech recognition with Google Now.
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For the time being, I have not uncovered anything too extraordinary about Cortana but I did uncover a few bugs within Windows 10. Microsoft's operating system is still not perfect and I hope to see some bug fixes being pushed out in the coming weeks. Here is one of the visual bugs which I caught. The Start Menu and also the Cortana search box will sometimes look like this. The search feature itself does work but the problem lies with the visuals.
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And another problem that I am heavily investigating over now is the unusually high RAM usage by the System. Usually I wouldn't mind about the RAM usage as the saying goes that the higher the RAM usage, the smoother the system runs but with Windows 10, the System is just taking up too much of my system memory and the problem hits when I am trying to run memory intensive applications like Photoshop and Visual Studio.
Windows 10 Day 3: Using Windows 10 with a touchscreen - using Windows 10 on a touchscreen feels natural and the gestures play a big role in navigating through the operating system. Continue reading
Initially I thought this was just a software bug that is related to my desktop computer but I have also noticed this same pattern on the Surface Pro 3 where the System uses upwards of 500MB of memory and I have seen it go up to 900MB too. At the moment, I presume this has something to do with a Windows 10 bug as I am not noticing this RAM issue with my old laptop which is running the RTM version of Windows 10.

I will try to look out for a probably solution and also the cause to this issue in the forthcoming week and I will write an update on this subsequently. If you're also facing such a problem on your Windows 10 computer, do tell me in the comments section below.
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That is about it for this article today and to end this weekend special, here's a little joke that has been circulating around the web about the new Microsoft Edge browser. As you can see, the Scooby Doo gang has unmasked yet another evil villain. And yes, sometime next week, I will be doing a writeup about Microsoft Edge.

Someone gets busted!

Insider talk (out of topic)

Tough week ahead, It's been quite a long time since I have actually written this much of articles in a week. Hope that I will be able to keep it flowing even after this segment ends. Not exactly sure what the cause of the RAM usage is but I am currently investigating the matter through forums and social media. Worst comes worst, I will just do a clean install of Windows 10 to see if the issues persists.

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