Microsoft kills all third-party skills as it refocuses Cortana for the enterprise

Microsoft today announced plans to streamline Cortana, its cross-platform virtual assistant, in future versions of Windows 10.  A chat-based UI with support for both voice and keyboard will arrive in the next release, as well as features that’ll let users check their calendars, set reminders, and perform other productivity-related tasks. At the same time, Microsoft says that it’ll remove music, connected home, and third-party Cortana app integrations as it “tightens access” on work and school accounts, and that it’ll end support for Cortana in older versions of Windows “that have reached their end-of-service dates.”

“We’re excited about how these updates to Cortana will help you stay on top of things, save time and do your best work. As we continue to innovate on Cortana … we plan to share further improvements in the coming months,” wrote Cortana corporate vice president Andrew Shuman in a blog post.

Beyond the new chat-based UI, the improved Cortana will recognize commands like “Tell me what’s next on my calendar,” “Remind me to send the ‘weekly report’ every Friday at 2 p.m.,” “Add ‘status report’ to my task list,” and others in the same vein. English-speaking users in the U.S. will see improved people-, email-, and file-finding capabilities and in-person meeting insights, but international users won’t be so lucky. Those in non-U.S. markets will initially be limited to Bing Answers and basic Cortana conversations.

Here’s the full list of soon-to-be-available skills, as per a Microsoft spokesperson:

  • Calendar
  • Join My Meeting
  • Reminders
  • Lists
  • Assistant Conversations/Chit Chat
  • Bing Answers
  • Alarms
  • Timer
  • Open Apps
  • Open Settings
  • People search
  • Media controls like “turn up the volume.”

Microsoft says it plans to remove all Cortana skills and integrations that aren’t on the above list, but that it will “continually be adding additional functionality to the experience.”

Elsewhere, using Cortana in Microsoft 365 (Microsoft’s line of subscription services offered by Microsoft as part of the Microsoft Office product line) will require signing into a Microsoft account going forward. Microsoft also says it plans to turn off the Cortana services in Microsoft Launcher, its home screen experience for Android, by the end of April (as previously announced).

“This is all part of  Cortana’s evolution into a personal productivity assistant. These productivity capabilities will be most beneficial to our commercial … customers” the spokesperson told VentureBeat. “We look forward to adding additional functionality soon, and based on customer feedback will continue to evolve the experience.”

The changes come as Microsoft refocuses Cortana for the enterprise — specifically for Windows and Office customers. The assistant recently gained the ability to read email summaries and send quick-reply response in Outlook, and to schedule meetings and to deliver daily schedules and task rundowns. Email briefings from Cortana in Outlook can now suggest optimal focus times, and last year, Microsoft launched Presenter Coach, a PowerPoint service that listens to your presentations and then provides feedback on pace, use of inclusive language, and repetitive use of mannerisms like “umm” and “basically.”

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