Microsoft's virtual assistant Cortana will be able help you manage your time -- here's why she's different than Google

Today, Microsoft announced an upgrade for its Cortana personal digital assistant, coming soon to Windows 10, that helps you manage your time by scanning your calendars and email to set smart alerts and reminders.

For instance, if you get an email (or email yourself) asking you to send a presentation by 4pm or to call a store back by next Tuesday, Cortana will keep that in her mechanical mind and remind you when it gets a little closer.

Check it out:

Similarly, Cortana will understand incoming meeting requests, alerting you if an important request from your boss for the next morning comes in late at night, or the like.

Take a look:

It works a lot like Cortana’s existing package tracking features — which is to say, to see these alerts, you have to actively click on the Cortana bar in Windows 10 to see them, says Cortana Group Product Manager Marcus Ash.

That’s very much on purpose, Ash says. It’s meant to boost your productivity, not add extra irritants to your life with lots of notifications and prompts.

“We think we can be helpful by sitting on your shoulder,” Ash says. “It’s not meant to change your behaviour.”

Cortana is designed to always be ready in the background when you need her. And, indeed, since Cortana doubles as a search bar and a shortcut to the computer’s settings, people click on her all the time.

It’s a change from Microsoft Office’s old “Clippy” help-bot, which was infamous for annoying suggestions and notifications.

Microsoft ClippyMicrosoftMicrosoft Clippy

And, yes, you can turn all of Cortana’s time-management features off entirely if you’d like.

“You’re in control of the feature,” Ash says.

It’s also in sharp contrast to the approach of companies like Google, which has services like Google Inbox that take your email and try to sort it for you according to its algorithms and best guesses as to what works for you.

Cortana is meant to enhance the stuff you already do, not provide another alternative way to read email and view your calendar.

“We want people to work how they want to work,” says Ash.

If you’re in Microsoft’s Windows Insider beta-testing program, it will hit Windows 10 as an update starting today. Everyone else will have to wait until it’s stable and ready for prime time.

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