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Microsoft to take on Amazon's Alexa and Google Home

The tech giant plans to unveil a range of Cortana-powered devices by the end of this year.

Cortana, originally a character in the Halo video games, is now an AI assistant.

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/CNET

There's Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google Assistant, but do you remember Cortana?

You soon might thanks to Microsoft, which is planning to power a range of devices by the end of the year using its Cortana digital assistant software. Soon, you'll be able to buy internet-connected speakers powered with Microsoft software.

The goal: Take on every tech giant fulfill a decades-long dream of making Microsoft's software and devices the center of people's lives.

To do this, Microsoft is working with companies like Samsung's Harman Kardon, Intel and Hewlett-Packard to build these devices.

"The opportunity for us as developers to have impact on all parts of society and all parts of economy has never been greater," said Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, at the company's Build developer conference in Seattle.

The effort is part of Microsoft's broader approach to the tech industry since Nadella was named CEO three years ago. Within months of his taking the top spot, Microsoft released a version of its Office productivity software for Apple's iPads and iPhones. Since then, Microsoft has promised that its software, ranging from its Cortana voice assistant to its Visual Studio programming tools, will be broadly available on Macs and other competing devices.

Industry analysts say the move helps Microsoft focus on what it does well -- such as building technology to help business customers -- rather than chase industries it can't compete as well in, such as mobile phones. It's also helped the company attract people to its products: Half a billion devices are running its Windows 10 software, 100 million people are using its Office 365 productivity tools at least once a month, and more than 145 million people are using Cortana.

That's a marked contrast from the competition, which has pushed their voice assistants through consumer products. Amazon has a lock in the home with Alexa, thanks to its family of Echo speakers, and Google is pursuing the same strategy with Google Home and phones running on its Android software. Siri, of course, has been a mainstay feature of the iPhone, but Apple may introduce a speaker of its own.

Whether Microsoft's more business-focused effort will help Microsoft take on Amazon and others is still unclear. But the company doesn't appear to be merely dipping its toes. It is also planning to offer developers the opportunity to work with Cortana. That means you'll be able to do things like ask Cortana to order you a pizza or play a radio station, technology that's powered by Microsoft's bot software announced last year.

So you may be talking to Cortana more before you know it.

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