Operating Systems

The latest Windows 10 Technical Preview update brings Cortana to the desktop

January's Windows 10 Technical Preview update adds Microsoft's virtual assistant and a few new apps.

Cortana is coming to a Windows 10 PC near you. Nate Ralph/CNET

Well, that was quick. Microsoft is rolling out the January update to the Windows 10 Technical Preview today, and it should include a few of the new features and apps we saw at the Windows 10 event on Wednesday. The latest version is build 9926, and according to today's announcement it includes tweaks to the operating system's look and feel, as well as a host of new features -- including Microsoft's virtual assistant, Cortana.

Cortana's arrival on the desktop is arguably the star of this new build. It'll be the first taste we'll get of the virtual assistant on a PC, and takes over the search function. You'll be able to type or speak to search for files, set reminders, or just ask questions -- Cortana will eventually learn about you and what you like, and will offer better recommendations the more you use it. Cortana's usefulness will be limited to start, and she currently only accepts queries in English, but Microsoft has promised that we'll eventually see all of the functionality from her Windows Phone incarnation , and more, in future updates.

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Windows 10's new universal Photos app wrangles your pics. Nate Ralph/CNET

I'm arguably more excited about the inclusion of the new Photos app. It will display all of the photos stored locally on your PC and on OneDrive, and will auto-enhance your images to correct things like blown out highlights and red-eye -- sort of like Google Plus' excellent photo-wrangling tech. The changes Windows 10's photo app makes are non-destructive (and completely optional), and will work on raw files, too. It isn't going to replace something like Adobe Lightroom, but folks looking for a hands-off way to get their photos sorted and spruced up just might have a neat new option -- provided it works well. The Photos app is also one of the first examples of universal apps, that will bridge the gap between Windows 10 on the PC and Windows 10 on your phone -- we'll need to wait a bit longer for the builds of the operating system to appear on Windows Phones, however.

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The Windows 10 Xbox app. Nate Ralph/CNET

If you're an Xbox Live fan, you'll probably appreciate the Xbox app, too. Its goal is to bring the full Xbox Live social experience to Windows 10: you'll be able to chat with your friends, check out achievements and look at game clips people have recorded. The app will ultimately allow you to stream games from your video game console directly to your Windows 10 PC, but we'll have to wait quite some time for that functionality to make its way over.

And there's plenty more: the Start Menu has gotten a few tweaks, there's a beta version of the new Windows Store to check out and a new Settings app tries to wrangle all of the different options you want to tweak into a single place. If you're a member of the Windows Insider program, head over to Windows Update on your current build of the Technical Preview and check to see if the new update is available for you. If you haven't joined the Windows Insider program (it's free) and your interest is piqued, head over to Microsoft's Windows Insider page to learn more, and grab a copy of the Windows 10 Technical Preview.

Keep in mind that the Technical Preview is still not ready for prime time, and shouldn't be installed on your primary PC. There are a number of known problems that may be fixed in future updates, but you can generally expect the occasional crash. I'd recommend running the Preview in a virtual machine, or on a separate hard drive partition. And be sure to visit CNET's one-stop shop for more tips on getting the most out of the Windows 10 Technical Preview.