Steve Ballmer tried to name Cortana 'Bingo' before leaving as Microsoft CEO
Steve Ballmer would have had folks shouting Bingo to summon a digital assistant.
What you need to know
- Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer tried to name Cortana "Bingo."
- A former PM at Microsoft shared the history of the company's digital assistant, including why it failed.
- Microsoft ended Windows Phone in 2017 and discontinued the Cortana apps on Android and iOS in 2020.
Microsoft's digital assistant Cortana almost had a different name; Bingo. The former CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, tried to name the assistant Bingo as one of his last acts running the company. Those plans fell through, as the leaked name of Cortana proved popular among bloggers and gamers. Satya Nadella took over for Ballmer as CEO and Microsoft decided to stick with the Cortana name.
That tidbit of information comes from a conversation between Alice Newton Rex and Sandeep Paruchuri, a former project manager at Microsoft. In that discussion, Rex and Paruchuri run through the history of Cortana, including its development process, launch on Windows Phone, and ultimate demise as a competitor to Alexa and Siri.
Cortana, which was supposed to be named Alyx, was shaped by several moving parts within Microsoft, including the development of Windows Phone 8, the growth of consumer-focused AI, and the decline of Smart Search. Apple's Siri also played a role in the birth of Cortana. Microsoft's assistant competed with Apple's, but it took a different approach.
"Siri had recently launched, and it felt like the beginning of something exciting. But Sandeep's team felt Siri was too reactive; you still had to ask it to do something," explained Rex. "So they started to wonder: how can you do what Siri does, but get ahead of the questions people are going to have before they ask them?"
Cortana focused on delivering information to users in scenarios, not just in response to questions. For example, the assistant would pop up with a reminder to purchase flowers when a person walked by a flower shop.
Microsoft also injected Cortana with a personality. This earned positive feedback, as did several aspects of the digital assistant. Unfortunately for Cortana, its success was short-lived. Windows Phone, the platform that showcased Cortana, was shut down in 2017. The Cortana apps on Android and iOS were discontinued in 2020.
Cortana lives on, but it has a different focus than initially intended. Microsoft baked Cortana into apps like Teams and Outlook as a productivity tool rather than having the digital assistant compete with the likes of Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant.
A combination of factors led to the downfall of Cortana, but an internal shift within Microsoft played a role.
"Across the company, anything that was AI or ML started being branded Cortana, so the name ceased to stand for anything at all," explains Rex's post. "It was the beginning of the end. With the rapid dilution, the brand faltered before it even had a chance to truly reach the masses."
Perhaps Ballmer was right. Cortana did fail as a consumer AI assistant and has since shifted to being a productivity helper in Teams and other Microsoft apps. If he had his way, maybe people would be saying "Hey Bingo" instead of invoking Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa.
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Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at email@example.com (opens in new tab).
Ohhh and Cortana, the way she responded with incoming text messages. It was so well done.
Oh Cortana. I miss you.
Signed former Invoke owner, who was turned into a revoked owner.
He didn't came up with anything new during his time as CEO. Or Microsoft, under his leadership. All things he is now praised for, was before him. Azure started many years before him, and always made money. The difference is Microsoft willing to spend that money to try something new and different. Now we have only canceled products and services...
years earlier? Sure, and Nadella admits this. Same with Mobile. the Iphone was introduced in 2007. Windows Phone 7 in 2010. three years late and obsolete. then Windows phone 8 then Windows phone 10. With each generation, MSFT recognized their blunder until 2017 when Nadella said enough. While you might not care about Azure, I would guess that most of the tech you use on a phone/PC is supported by the cloud and probably would not work without the cloud. WinTel was not a consumer facing ecosystem. While many people bought PCs in the 80's and 90s, these were not consumers products. They were important investments in info technology. They were not bought to meet some consumer need. Did companies feed the WinTel ecosystem with consumer types devices and services? Sure, gaming became a thing on PCs. I guess my point is if Windows phone 7 appeared in 2007, would Android exist? Would Nadella have risen to the top and pushed Azure forward? What would have be worse for MSFT. Losing the Cloud race or the Mobile race? MSFT can port their services to Android and iOS. Without Azure, what can MSFT provide strategically to the Globe?
In the beginning of Windows for PC's, they didn't become the most dominant OS in the world by focusing on USA... And stop talking about Lumia 520. You just showing how clueless you are, android fanboy. Many other Lumias outselled 520. Some of Lumias x30, and especially x40. Saying that it simply didn't work is 100% false. If they wanted it to succeed, they would make it.
Sadly due to failure of windows phone and Microsoft pushing cortana on windows, people stopped using it.
Unfortunately, Microsoft decided to use words like Vista, Zune, Cortana, Kaizala, and other names that most people can't identify with or have trouble warming up to. I thought Cortana (the apps/assistant) had a lot of potential, and as a hobbyist, I made a video about Cortana in 2016 as I was so happy with the direction she/it was going. Maybe younger people have a different opinion. As a middle-aged Windows enthusiast (53), we've witnessed the changes, successes, and failures that have happened with Windows over the years. I'm not sure if it's because Microsoft took on younger staff who couldn't relate to the past (like how great Windows 7's Start menu experience used to be), or whether staff got too old and tried to be young and hip by choosing such silly names - like one from a gaming character!
I still like Windows, but you are forgiven nowadays if you feel the need to use third-party apps to enhance your Windows experience.
Nadella = Windows 10 / Surface / Azure You're right Nadella is way worse 🤦. So we've learned you just dislike Windows 11. Show me your source for your claimed Windows 11 rollout disaster? No wait you can't. Love Windows 11. Start Menu could be a bit more customisable, otherwise definite improvement over Windows 10.