More than a decade after burying Clippy, we're seeing echoes of the virtual assistant in Project Spartan, the lightweight new browser Microsoft is building for Windows 10. Cortana is going to be a centerpiece in Spartan, but unlike her anthropomorphic paperclip ancestor, she actually seems useful.
In a leaked build obtained by WinBeta, Cortana appears as a text prompt on the far right side of the address bar, offering extra information as you visit certain types of websites. For instance, going to a restaurant's home page will bring up a message, reading "I've got directions, hours, and more." Clicking the message brings up a sidebar with the restaurant's contact information, location, reviews and an OpenTable reservation link.
Cortana can also help out with words and phrases on any web page. Right clicking on a text selection shows an "Ask Cortana" option in the context menu, bringing up a sidebar with definitions and other information sourced from Bing.
While not explicitly a Cortana feature, the browser will also be able to show certain types of information straight from the URL/search bar. For example, if you start typing "weather," the local forecast will appear before you've even completed the word.
The current Windows 10 preview build doesn't include Project Spartan, though its Edge rendering engine is available in Internet Explorer. Spartan is reportedly on track for the next preview build, which should arrive some time this month.
Why this matters: Although Microsoft announced Cortana as a Spartan feature back in January, details have been slim on how the virtual assistant would actually work. What we're seeing so far is basically a way to get Bing's knowledge engine in front of more users, even if they rely on Google for searches. Microsoft must know it walks a fine line between being helpful and being a nuisance, so hopefully Cortana will stay out of the way when it's not able to offer anything of value.