Cortana Taking Center Stage with Windows 10 Anniversary Update

Microsoft has affirmed a few Windows 10 anniversary update details that surfaced in recent media reports this week.

The Windows 10 anniversary update (version 1607), arriving on Aug. 2 and code-named "Redstone," will be a major feature update release for Windows 10 users. It will add security features for organizations using some editions.

For instance, the Windows 10 anniversary update will light up Windows Hello, a biometric authentication service that replaces passwords. In addition, the Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection service for investigating network attacks will be enabled.

Cortana, Microsoft's voice-enabled enterprise search service with a "personality," also will show up on the Windows 10 anniversary edition lock screen.

Cortana Prominence
However, not only will Cortana be more prominent, it'll also be harder for some users to get rid of "her" with the Windows 10 anniversary update. Cortana can't be turned off in the new Windows 10 release, a PCWorld story declared this week. A Microsoft spokesperson today largely affirmed that notion that Windows 10's search capability will become Cortana with the anniversary update release, as described in an e-mailed response:

With the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the search box is now Cortana. Customers can expect the same great search experience powered by Bing and Microsoft Edge with the added benefit of Cortana’s personality.

Update 7/29/16: IT pros will have Group Policy controls over Cortana, according to the spokesperson.

"Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise customers can set, manage and use Group Policy and Mobile Device Management (MDM) polices to configure Cortana," the spokesperson said via e-mail.

Microsoft recently published this TechNet article describing what happens with certain Group Policy and MDM configurations when managing Cortana use. Some privacy questions regarding Cortana use are addressed in this Microsoft FAQ.

Organizations using certain Windows 10 editions have the ability to defer Windows updates, but just for eight months (current branch for business users) or annually (long-term servicing branch users with a total 10-year term). Consumer users of Windows 10, on the other hand, essentially have no control over the arrival of Windows 10 updates. Updates get streamed down to them, so the anniversary update will be arriving soon.

Consequently, Cortana, with its ambiguous privacy associations, will plant a flag on consumer machines. Microsoft claims to have strong privacy protections with Windows 10, although a French government agency recently raised some objections (Cortana didn't appear to be among them, though).

The spokesperson suggested that there are some Cortana tweaks that Windows 10 consumer users could do, if wanted:

We know consumers want choice and we make it easy to customize Cortana’s personalization or opt-out of Cortana’s suite of personalized services. Cortana works best when you sign in, but if you choose not to, you can still use her to chat, search the web and your Windows device. If you like, you can also easily hide Cortana and the search box in the taskbar altogether.

New Windows 10 Pro Education Edition
Another bit of Windows 10 anniversary update news is that there will be a new Windows 10 Pro Education edition. It'll arrive on Aug. 2, the spokesperson confirmed. A report by veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley had first described it. Microsoft recently published details about the new Windows 10 Pro Education edition in this TechNet article.

The Windows 10 Education edition is typically described by Microsoft as being equivalent to the Windows 10 Enterprise edition for organizations. The new Windows 10 Pro Education Edition will similarly mirror the Windows 10 Pro edition. However, Microsoft will be adding some education-specific capabilities with the anniversary update Education edition releases on Aug. 2.

For instance, Windows 10 Education editions (version 1607) will be bringing simplified provisioning for K-12 schools via a "Set up School PCs app or Windows Imaging and Configuration Designer" tool, the TechNet article explained. There also will be a "Take a Test" app that prohibits students from using browsers during a test. It also blocks Cortana searches and other apps use.

Microsoft actually plans to disable Cortana from both Windows 10 Education editions, although educational institutions can turn it off now using Group Policy. The spokesperson explained that Cortana is being removed to avoid delivering "sponsored content" to students:

For our education editions, Microsoft is committed to an experience free from sponsored content by default. Within Cortana, Microsoft could not guarantee that sponsored content would not appear as part of the online search experience.

Microsoft is working on creating a future Cortana service that has an "education-appropriate experience."

As for any other possible Windows 10 anniversary update editions that could crop up on Aug. 2, the spokesperson said Microsoft had "nothing further to share."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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