Steve Ballmer’s “parting gift” as Microsoft CEO: Trying to name Cortana “Bingo”

By | December 22, 2021


Cortana on an iPhone. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistant is clearly winding down—the feature is still available in the desktop versions of Windows, but it’s no longer included in a default install of Windows 11, and the mobile app was discontinued back in March.

But the future once looked bright for the chipper virtual assistant, according to former Microsoft Product Manager Sandeep Paruchuri in an interview with the Big Bets newsletter. Paruchuri speaks at length about Cortana’s development as a feature for Windows Phone 8.1 from its beginnings as a passion project with a small team.

The Cortana feature was only officially called “Cortana” after the codename leaked during development—another early suggestion was “Alyx,” and then-CEO Steve Ballmer tried to name it “Bingo” as a “parting gift” before handing the reins to current CEO Satya Nadella. (Ballmer had “poor product taste,” says Paruchuri, in what we in the tech biz call “an understatement.”) Cortana’s developers were inspired by Siri but wanted their voice assistant to be more proactive, making suggestions based on context and user data rather than merely responding to direct input. The team also wanted Cortana to have more of a personality than Siri or Google Now, which was helped along by Cortana’s Halo voice actor, Jen Taylor. 

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