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Microsoft Curbs Cortana in Windows 10

By Richard Adhikari
Apr 30, 2016 10:00 AM PT

Microsoft on Thursday announced that it was restricting its Cortana digital assistant to operating with the Edge browser and Bing search engine in Windows 10.

"As Windows 10 has grown in adoption and usage, we have seen some software programs circumvent [its] design and redirect you to search providers that were not designed to work with Cortana," said Ryan Gavin, Microsoft's general manager of search and Cortana.

"The result is a compromised experience that is less reliable and predictable," he added. "The continuity of these types of task completion scenarios is disrupted if Cortana can't depend on Bing as the search provider and Microsoft Edge as the browser."

Cortana, Edge and Bing are integrated to provide a better search experience, Gavin explained.

Reaction to the Move

"Of course, this doesn't negate [other browsers], but Microsoft is counting on the fact that using Cortana really kind of obviates the use of the browser in the first place," noted Mike Jude, program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

"If you're asking Cortana, do you care how it's linking to its information?" he asked.

"This stuff sounds like a bunch of 5-year-olds having a fight in the sandbox: If they're not going to work with us, we're not going to work with them," suggested Laura DiDio, a research director at Strategy Analytics.

"To a certain extent, Microsoft has a point, but this is a throwback to 1995 when everybody had a proprietary dog in the fight," she told TechNewsWorld. "Today we're supposed to have done with these things."

However, Cortana "is an AI interface to search, integrated as a feature in both Windows 10 and in Bing," noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"It's basically a voice interface into Microsoft's search technology," he told TechNewsWorld, "and getting it to interface equally well with anyone else's search engine would be problematic, because you'd need to be pretty intimate with them. I wouldn't describe Microsoft's relationship with Google as intimate."

Will Consumers Notice?

It's not clear how the restriction might impact enterprise users, because "in a cubicle environment, voice interaction with a PC could be a distraction," Frost's Jude told TechNewsWorld. "Business users may just prefer not to use Cortana, and then use the browser of their choice."

Cortana "was really designed for mobile devices where keyboards aren't really that useful," Enderle said. "Most Windows 10 PCs just don't fall into that category -- and as a result, Cortana, while cool, just isn't that widely used. You're not going to miss what you aren't using."

That said, "eventually Microsoft may need to take Cortana more in the direction [Amazon's] Alexa is taking, and make it a stronger universal interface, as that seems to be the future," Enderle suggested.

Why Microsoft Is Clamping Down

Google continues to dominate online search, claiming nearly 68 percent of the global market in March, according to Netmarketshare. Bing had just over 13 percent.

Bing has been gaining ground, albeit at a snail's pace, and it's possible that Microsoft wants to speed up its advance and get more of the search engine market, which raked in US$20.5 billion last year, up 8 percent over 2014.

"Microsoft wants a piece of the Internet advertising action," Jude said. "Anything that increases the use of Bing will help."

Microsoft has to market Bing more heavily and consumers have to chase it more aggressively, Enderle said. "If [Bing] could be a stronger alternative on smartphones, then it would -- but it isn't, so it doesn't."

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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