Two technology heavyweights have teamed up to make voice-based computing a little less of a hassle for consumers.

Microsoft and Amazon said today that their voice-activated digital assistants, Cortana and Alexa, will become interoperable later this year. That means that if you have an Alexa-compatible device such as an Echo, you'll be able to use it to control Cortana-enabled functions on your Windows laptop, and vice versa.

It’s an exciting development in the rapidly growing digital assistant category that also includes Apple's Siri and Google Assistant, along with less well-established products such as Samsung Bixby. Neither Google nor Apple would say whether they are planning similar partnerships.

What Will I Be Able to Do?

The key purpose of this partnership is to enable consumers to access Alexa skills on their Cortana devices, and vice versa.

For example, before they leave for work in the morning, users packing lunch for their kids could have the Echo on the kitchen counter scan their office emails. Handy.

Similarly, while finishing end-of-the-day work on their Windows 10 PC, a user might want to tell her Nest thermostat to cool down the house before she begins the drive home. Thanks to this new working partnership, you could merely use your PC to tell Cortana to have Alexa set the Nest to a designated temperature.

“For myself, I could have Alexa devices primarily but use Cortana’s functionality on my Alexa devices to manage my business calendar or email or whatever else I might use through Microsoft,” Nick Schwab, founder of Invoked Apps, which creates relaxing music and sound skills for Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant, tells Consumer Reports.

While this will no doubt prove useful, the syntax likely to be required to accomplish these tasks—”Alexa, open Cortana,” followed by the request for Cortana—doesn’t exactly scream elegance. In time that may improve, but you’ll initially have to perform some mental gymnastics, asking one digital assistant to trigger the other digital assistant.

“You can call me old school but I’m very much a fan of the original Star Trek version where you would just say, ‘Computer,’” says David M. Garrity, CEO of research and consulting firm GVA Research, based in New York. “You talk to the computer and the computer responds.”

What Problem Does This Fix?

For consumers, the tie-up could go a long way toward solving a key problem currently plaguing the digital assistant landscape: missing out on skills that could be useful simply because you've bought one device instead of another.

And, the partnership could mean that developers have a wider audience for the skills they create. That's good for them, but there's a consumer benefit, too: It means that developers can put more effort into creating great products instead of building multiple versions of the same software.

The deal “allows us as developers to get more data and more access to users, which allows us to provide better services,” says Haim Senior, co-founder and CEO of Knowmail, a productivity skill for Cortana that highlights urgent emails. Having access to more platforms out of the box, so to speak, saves time that otherwise would have gone into creating Knowmail for other platforms. “It’s a win-win kind of a situation,” he says.

What Devices Can I Use?

When Amazon introduced the Echo in November 2014, it was the only device that could tap into Alexa, the company’s digital assistant software. In the nearly three years since the Echo’s release, Amazon has both expanded the number of Echo-branded devices that are available, including a new model called the Echo Show that has a 7-inch touch screen, and opened up Alexa to other hardware makers, including Chinese smartphone maker Huawei (which puts Alexa in its Mate 9 smartphone) and Nucleus, makers of the Anywhere Intercom.

The good news is that, according to an Amazon spokesperson, all Alexa-enabled devices will be able to trigger Cortana.

Microsoft has comparatively fewer devices with Cortana. Primarily, it's baked into Windows 10 PCs, though Cortana apps also exist for Android and iOS, and a smart speaker from Harman Kardon with Cortana is due this fall.

Microsoft says the Windows 10 version of Cortana will be the first to tap into Alexa, followed at some point by the Android and iOS apps.