Windows 10 Preview Build 18309 Hushes Cortana, Expands Password-Less Accounts


Microsoft seems to have finally realized that people don't want to hear Cortana every time they set up a new Windows 10 device. The company announced that starting with Windows 10 Preview Build 18309 certain versions of the operating system (Pro, Enterprise, and Education) won't have Cortana walk people through that setup process. This should be a welcome change for anyone who regularly sets up these systems.

Preview Build 18309's other noteworthy additions revolve around security changes. The first is an update to make resetting a Windows Hello PIN, which can be used instead of passwords to sign in to Windows 10 devices. Microsoft actually revealed the change with Preview Build 18305, but it was previously only available to Windows Insider Program members using Windows 10 Home, and Preview Build 18309 brings it to everyone.

Microsoft's crusade against passwords continued with the expansion of password-less Microsoft accounts. They work pretty much like you would expect: instead of having to create a Microsoft account with a username and password, you can simply enter your phone number and let Microsoft handle the rest. These accounts were also introduced with Preview Build 18305; they too were exclusive to Windows 10 Home until now.

Microsoft and other tech companies have introduced several alternatives to passwords over the years. Smartphones paved the way for thumbprint scanners, which have since become relatively common on laptops as well. Improved facial recognition has also enabled tools like Windows Hello and Apple's Face ID.

The company has essentially taken a concept many people are used to--entering codes sent to their phones when they want to sign in--and separated it from the existing system. These one-time codes are currently used most often as part of a two-factor authentication system, with username-password combinations being the first factor. Now the password has been removed and one-time codes have been given priority.

That doesn't mean these password-less accounts will use one-time codes as their only authentication factor. Instead, Microsoft expects people to enter a one-time code and then use either Windows Hello Face, Fingerprint or a PIN to access their devices. (Hence the simplified Windows Hello PIN reset "experience" accompanying this change.) Then it's up to the biometric security measures to handle the sign-in process.

None of these password alternatives are perfect. Biometric security can be fooled by prosthetics or, in some cases, even just photographs of someone's thumbprint or face. One-time codes sent to people's phones are vulnerable to interception during the transfer process or by someone with physical access to the device. Passwords have stronger legal protections than biometric authenticators, too, at least in the U.S.

Still, it's clear that Microsoft won't rest until the password is dead, or at least less popular than it is now. If silencing Cortana with Preview Build 18309 is a gift to professional Windows 10 users, expanding password-less Microsoft accounts to every version of Windows 10 is Microsoft's gift to itself. Other presents include accessibility improvements, a bunch of bug fixes and the list of known issues that accompanies every release.