Windows 10 can tap Cortana for help with data analysis

The new OS will also feature multiple desktops and enhanced security features

Users of the upcoming version of Windows will be able to call on its Cortana voice-driven virtual personal assistant to help them parse their organization's business intelligence data.

Windows 10 will also let users run multiple desktops on a single computer, and even move applications across these different desktops.

With Windows 10, Microsoft wants to find the "right balance between familiarity and productivity," Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft's operating systems group, said during the opening keynote of the company's Ignite conference for IT professionals, being held this week in Chicago.

At the conference, Microsoft highlighted features designed to appeal to business users of Windows 10, the next version of Microsoft's flagship operating system, due to be released around mid-year.

One such feature is Cortana, which can recognize a user's voice, answer questions and complete simple tasks on the user's device. It relies on Microsoft's Bing search engine as well as on cloud-run machine learning algorithms that can progressively refine and improve its understanding of questions.

Belfiore demonstrated how Cortana can be used in business settings. For instance, the service can be used to help IT departments answer frequently-asked support questions from employees. Belfiore asked how to project his computer's screen in another display, and Cortana answered right away.

Cortana could also assist employees with business intelligence software, potentially broadening the range of people who could use these data analysis tools.

As an example, Microsoft compiled the Ignite attendee data in the PowerBI tool, an extension of Excel. From the start screen, Belfiore asked Cortana to use PowerBI to find out how many attendees had registered for the conference. It answered 20,000, the figure at the time the data was compiled.

Cortana also parsed the data in more complicated ways. It used PowerBI to group the number of attendees by country and by industry. Attendees were asked how many computers their company has. Cortana sliced the data by vertical industry and determined that, on average, defense companies have the most computers.

In addition to Cortana, Belfiore showed off the multiple desktops feature, which will be new to Windows although it has long been supported by Mac OS and various Linux desktop packages. This feature allows the user to set up different desktops, with each desktop able to hold multiple applications.

With this feature, the user can switch between desktops, allowing them to maintain separate workspaces for different tasks. Microsoft has been developing this feature since last year. New for this conference, however, is the ability to drag an application from one desktop to another, which Belfiore demonstrated.

Microsoft is also adding a number of enterprise IT security features, including a new authentication technology, called Microsoft Hello, that can identify the user by his or her face, removing the need for them to enter a password. After the user turns on the computer, Windows 10 automatically starts searching for the person's face using the device's built-in camera.

Another area of improvement is encryption. Users will be able to encrypt individual files, rather than using BitLocker, which is an "all or nothing scenario" in that encrypts all the files on a computer, Belfiore said. This will allow users to encrypt business information and store the information in the same folder as personal unencrypted information.

Encrypted files can then be sent by e-mail or transferred to a key drive, though the files only can be accessed by those with appropriate permissions, as set by the administrator. This approach will help better combat the problem of corporate data leakage, Belfiore said.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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