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Using Windows 10

Cortana and search

We start this section with a disclaimer: Search, as a Windows 10 feature and as an online service, is evolving at breathtaking speed. The results that show up in the search box are delivered by online services that are constantly improving, as are the Windows features you use to make those requests. Our goal in this section is not to show you how to accomplish specific search tasks but to help you discover what search is capable of accomplishing for you.

Search is built into Windows 10 as an integral feature that gets prime real estate, just to the right of the Start button.

By default, on desktop and laptop PCs, this space is occupied by a search box. In Tablet Mode (or if you change the default setting), a search button appears, which expands into a box when you tap or click it.

By default, Windows Search is businesslike and efficient, with no personality. You type something in the search box and see results like those shown in Figure 3-22. Windows Search is very good at finding settings and apps, as you can see.

Figure 3-22

Figure 3-22 Type a word or phrase in the search box, and you get a list of settings and apps that match the search term, with options at the bottom to search personal files or the web.

If you’re more interested in finding a photo or a PowerPoint presentation, enter your search term and then click or tap My Stuff to change the search scope. That immediately expands the size of the search results window, as shown in Figure 3-23, and displays results that match your search terms.

Figure 3-23

Figure 3-23 Changing the search scope to My Stuff expands the results list and turns up photos, documents, and more, with sort and filter options up top.

  • arrow.jpg For more detailed instructions on how to use Windows Search from File Explorer, see “Using Windows Search” in Chapter 12, “Organizing and searching for files.”

Cortana, the intelligent search assistant built into Windows 10, adds an adult’s voice and a (programmed) sense of humor to the core search experience. It also adds the ability to perform additional tasks, such as adding items to a to-do list, and to deliver regular updates that match your interests, as defined in a notebook full of settings.

In many ways, Cortana today is like a two-year-old prodigy. Despite the pleasant female voice and the mostly natural intonations, “she” is really a web service, which is constantly learning and adding capabilities.

For a partial list of things Cortana can do for you, just ask. Click the microphone button in the search box and say, “What can you do?” That should produce a list like the one in Figure 3-24.

Figure 3-24

Figure 3-24 If you’re not sure what Cortana can do, just ask, “What can you do?”

Because Cortana requires that you grant access to personal information, you need to go through a brief but important setup first. Pay special attention when the setup wizard asks for permission to use your microphone to accept spoken input. (Note: You’re perfectly free to say no, but that changes the experience significantly.)

The icon bar along Cortana’s left edge is cryptic at first. For a more thorough explanation of what each icon means, click the hamburger menu in the top left corner, next to Cortana’s name, to see the list with descriptive labels attached, as in Figure 3-25.

Figure 3-25

Figure 3-25 Click or tap the hamburger menu in the top left of the Cortana window to display labels identifying what each of the options along the left side does.

The tasks Cortana can complete on your behalf include adding appointments and reminders, creating notes, setting alarms, retrieving a weather forecast, and checking your calendar for upcoming events. Figure 3-26, for example, shows the response when you ask Cortana to set a reminder.

Figure 3-26

Figure 3-26 If you ask Cortana to set a reminder or create an appointment, she responds with this crisply efficient form.

Cortana is most valuable on mobile devices, of course, where the ability to ask a question (literally) and get a useful answer is paramount. But she is a handy assistant in an office as well.

In addition to taking over search duties for files, folders, settings, music, and so on, Cortana can return results based on information you’ve allowed her to search. Just clicking in the search box allows Cortana to display a scrolling list of useful information: news headlines, stock prices from your watch list, results from your favorite team’s latest game, weather forecasts, and reminders on when you need to leave to arrive on time for an appointment.

You establish those interests in an initial, brief interview, but you can expand or change those interests later by visiting the Cortana notebook. To start, click the Notebook icon, just below Home on Cortana’s left side. That opens a dialog box like the one shown in Figure 3-27.

Figure 3-27

Figure 3-27 Use Cortana’s notebook to customize your interests and help make the “Here’s what’s happening now” summaries more useful.

You have every right to be concerned about privacy when using a service that knows so much about your daily routine. You can read the Cortana privacy policy by following a link at the bottom of the Cortana Settings pane, shown in Figure 3-28.

Figure 3-28

Figure 3-28 The Cortana Settings pane allows you to read the privacy policy, disable the service and clear local information, or go online and delete all saved information.

The top option on this window turns Cortana off and deletes any locally saved information. To delete personal information saved on Microsoft’s servers, click or tap Manage What Cortana Knows About Me In The Cloud and follow the instructions.