It's no secret that one of Windows 10's more controversial features has always been Cortana. The amusingly-named virtual assistant is effectively Microsoft's take on Alexa, but when Windows 10 first launched, many users despised the tool – it was tightly integrated into Search, and it had a constant presence on a given user's taskbar.

Microsoft is well aware of the animosity its community holds toward Cortana and has tried to distance Windows 10 from the assistant over time. Now, as part of that process, the tech giant has completely reworked the assistant and converted it into a "chat-based UI." The new Cortana will theoretically be much simpler and less intrusive to use.

As Microsoft points out, the new Cortana lets you type (or speak) "natural language queries," meaning you can ask for help with setting up shopping lists, turning on or off alarms and timers and even opening various apps in a more conversational manner. Most of those features were already available in the original Cortana experience, though, so what unique functionality does the new version of the assistant bring to the table?

Microsoft says the updated Cortana now supports light and dark themes, and it has been upgraded with "new speech and language models," as well as faster performance (meaning quicker responses).

You can try the new Cortana today if you're a Windows Insider in the program's Fast ring – the new Windows 10 Preview build (18945) should be rolling out to you automatically if you are. If you aren't, you can sign up for the Insider program right here.