Windows 10 has many new features and one of the most interesting is Cortana. Cortana is Microsoft’s ‘intelligent personal assistant’ that replaces the usual Windows search tool, but it can do much more than just find things on your computer.

Cortana first appeared on Windows Phone, where it used sophisticated speech recognition via the built-in microphone. Cortana in Windows 10 works with a microphone, too, by you can also use it with the keyboard. Here’s how to get started.

Step 1: Activate Cortana

Cortana requires some basic setting up before you begin, so start by clicking in the Search box next to the Windows 10 Start button. You’ll see a brief overview of what Cortana can do in the pop-up window and you can click the Not interested button if you’d rather stick with the standard Windows 10 Search tool, else click the Next button.

Activate Cortana


Step 2: Agree to Cortana’s terms

You’ll then need to agree to a privacy statement, since Cortana collects information about you to work its magic, including your PC’s location, contacts, web history and so on. Cortana isn’t much use unless it has access to this data, so click the I agree button if you’re happy to continue.

Agree to Cortana's terms


Step 3: Switch to a Microsoft account

Cortana will personalise its responses, so type the name you’d like to be known by and click the Next button. Cortana also only works with a Microsoft account, since it saves some information online. So if you’re using a local Windows account to log into your PC, you’ll be prompted to switch to a Microsoft account by signing into an existing account or creating a new one. You won’t lose any files or settings by doing this.

Finally, you’ll see a message from Cortana about your interests, but we’ll adjust those later, so just click the Got it button to continue.

[Read more: Windows 10 is stopping users searching via Google in Cortana]

Switch to a Microsoft account

Step 4: See a summary of your news

Cortana displays a summary of information it thinks you’ll be interested in whenever you click the Search box, so scroll down the list to see everything that’s available. These will become more matched to your interests over time, but again, we’ll fine tune them later. Click any item in the list to open it in your web browser.

See a summary of your news


Step 5: Ask Cortana something

Cortana can search your PC for files, applications and settings, just like the search tool in earlier versions of Windows, but you can also ask it more general questions and even use it to search the web — just ask it a question, as you would a person. You can also give Cortana commands — try asking it to send an email, or make an appointment for something on a certain date.

Ask Cortana to do something


Step 6: Set up voice commands

Typing isn’t always the most natural way to interact with Cortana, so if your computer has a microphone, you can use your voice, too. Click the microphone icon to the right of the Search box and follow the on-screen instructions to get things working — you’ll need to read a short sentence aloud as part of the set-up. This done, you can then click the microphone icon to talk to Cortana, rather than type. Other than speaking clearly, you don’t need to talk in a certain way to use Cortana — just talk as you normally do.

Set up voice commands

[Related story: Windows 10 - How to manage notifications and alerts]

Step 7: Personalise your settings

Cortana will build up a profile about you as you use it and you can speed up this process by telling it what you’re interested in. Open the Search box and click the Notebook icon on the left — just below the Home icon.

Personlise your settings


Step 8: Tell Cortana what you’re interested in

Now you can select each category, switch it on or off, and customise it using the toggles. If you scroll to the bottom of the settings for a particular category, you’ll also see an Add a category option — click this to add sub-categories to the chosen section, such as Technology to News.  Remember to click the Save button for each change you make.

Tell Cortana what you're interested in


Step 9: Activate ‘Hey Cortana’

Click the Notebook icon again and this time click Settings. Here you can enable the ‘Hey Cortana’ option to enable a voice search simply by saying “Hey Cortana” rather than clicking the microphone icon each time. It’s also worth clicking the Learn my voice button to train Cortana to understand you better — just follow the on-screen instructions for this.

Activate 'Hey Cortana'


Step 10: Tell Cortana where you live and work

Go to Cortana - Notebook - About me - Favourite places - Edit favourites and you can click the + button to tell Cortana your favourite places — your home, where you work and anywhere else you regularly travel to. Cortana will then be able to give travel directions, traffic updates before you travel and so on.

Tell Cortana where you live and work

Cortana is quite clever and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it can do here. So if you’ve found something Cortana is capable of that you’d like to share, let us know in the Comments.