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Hey, Bingo? Steve Ballmer nearly changed Cortana’s name in last act at Microsoft

Cortana’s halo might now be dim, but there once was a time when the virtual assistant could have gone by the much more silly name of Bingo. That’s all according to a newsletter written by a former Microsoft employee that gets into the origins of Cortana, its struggles, and more.

The newsletter is quite in-depth. In it, former Microsoft program manager Sandeep Paruchuri discusses how former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, in his last act as CEO, just before handing off his duties to Satya Nadella, renamed the entire Cortana experience to the Microsoft Bing-branded “Bingo.” Fortunately, Nadella then came along, the Cortana team waited things out, and Cortana got to keep its name as the development team intended.

Cortana on Windows 11.

“Luckily, Satya had different ideas and was a huge supporter of the project because of his belief in the power of A.I. Under his leadership, Cortana got to keep her name and was declared ready to ship,” writes Paruchuri.

That’s one of the most interesting tidbits of the newsletter, but other points look at how Cortana evolved from Windows Phone 8.1 in 2014 and eventually made it to Windows 10 when the new operating system debuted. Paruchuri even gets into how Cortana evolved from rival assistant Siri’s launch in 2011, and how naming Microsoft’s own virtual assistant after Master Chief’s assistant from Halo was appropriate.

“They felt Cortana was the perfect metaphor, as she was always looking out for the chief to see what trouble was coming. Everyone in the team wished they had that, the perfect personal assistant who could see around corners for you,” Paruchuri explained.

Yet that’s not the only possible name Microsoft’s virtual assistant could have had. Earlier, in 2012, Microsoft’s marketing team considered the name “Alyx” as the public name for Cortana. Yet, that changed when people signed petitions to ask Microsoft to stick with the leaked name of Cortana.

Cortana is not what it once used to be, and now is now more of a productivity assistant, rather than a digital assistant. Microsoft shut down the Cortana apps on iOS and Android in 2020 and has since moved it into the Outlook app on those platforms. Cortana can still be downloaded and used on Windows as a separate app, though it is no longer installed as default.

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