(Credit: Amazon, Inc.)

On Android and iPhones, the Google Assistant and Siri dominate their respective playing fields. These virtual assistants can set timers and alarms, open apps, search the web, deliver news and traffic alerts, act as your personal DJ, cast media from your phone to other devices, and more. Because they're so capable, it's difficult for a third party to break in. But on Windows 10, things have evolved a bit differently.

Windows 10 has the Cortana assistant, named after a character from the Halo videogame series published by Microsoft. But despite Halo being a blockbuster franchise, Cortana hasn't gained the visibility of the Google Assistant (Android, iOS), Siri, or Amazon Alexa (Android, iOS).

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As a result, there's an opportunity for others to compete in this space, and Amazon has seized on this to expand the reach of its own Alexa AI, which does not have a built-in home on a mobile platform like Google and Apple AIs do. Since Microsoft and Amazon collaborated in August to make the two assistants aware of each other in Windows 10, a full-fledged Alexa app for this OS is a reasonable next step, and users of it can download it today for free.

With this app running on your Windows 10 PC, you can basically use Alexa like you would with one of Amazon's Echo series of smart speakers (or like you'd use Siri or Google Assistant on your phone), but she also has some other interesting perks.

Beyond the usual things like setting reminders, queuing up music, and smart home voice controls, Alexa can also play audiobooks (Audible, the biggest audiobook seller in the US, is owned by Amazon) and perform text-to-speech on Kindle ebooks.

Do you need both assistants on Windows 10?

There's definitely a lot of overlap, but Microsoft doesn't have the smart home ecosystem that Alexa does, nor her ability to sling media (though The Verge notes that Alexa for Windows 10 currently doesn't support Spotify or Pandora). By that token, Alexa may boost the overall appeal of the operating system, especially for customers who already use Echo devices or an Amazon Prime membership.

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With this app on a Windows 10 laptop, you now basically have an Echo with you wherever you go, which could help Amazon's AI make a dent in the mobile space dominated by Siri and the Google Assistant. Meanwhile, Cortana remains useful for opening desktop apps, controlling volume, sending and receiving text messages, and other platform-specific duties.

Either way you slice it, putting Alexa on Windows 10 gives people more options for choosing the AI that suits them the best, and it empowers your laptop or desktop PC to do more cool things that it couldn't do before, for free.

Takeaways

  • Windows 10 now has its own app for the Amazon Alexa virtual assistant, which you can download here.
  • In addition to the usual virtual assistant abilities, Alexa can play Audible audiobooks and perform text-to-speech on Kindle ebooks.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.