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6/25/2007
08:38 PM
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Google Seeks To Extend Microsoft Antitrust Oversight

The search engine company asks the courts to force Microsoft to reveal the exact changes in Windows Vista that accommodate competing desktop search software providers.

A day before Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is scheduled to review Microsoft's compliance with the terms of the agreement that settled federal and state antitrust cases against the company, Google asked the judge to extend the court's oversight of Microsoft.

Microsoft was supposed to go free, at least partially, on Nov. 12, 2007. Thanks to Google, the world's largest software company may remain on probation for a while longer.

Citing "Microsoft's history of aggressively minimizing the impact of court-ordered relief," Google said on Monday that the changes Microsoft promised to make in Windows Vista last week to accommodate competing desktop search software providers are vague and need to be clarified.

"The Court and the public would benefit greatly from a description of the precise measures Microsoft is planning to implement and the practical effect they will have on users of desktop search," Google said in its legal filing.

Microsoft is required to keep its "middleware" open to third-party developers to make up for its past anti-competitive behavior.

When the joint status report was issued last week by the U.S. Department of Justice, 17 state attorneys general, and the District of Columbia, Google's chief legal officer David Drummond offered a qualified endorsement of the steps Microsoft agreed to take to address the government's concerns. The remedies, he said, "should be improved further to give consumers greater access to alternate desktop search providers."

In Monday's filing, Google clarified its objections. "For example, it appears that Microsoft will continue to show its own desktop search results when users run searches from prominent shortcuts and menu entries throughout the operating system, though users will now be given a mechanism to request results from their chosen desktop search product by taking a second step after they have first viewed results from Microsoft's product," the filing states.

Google also claims that Microsoft "may intend to remove [menu entries in the Vista Start menu and in various 'right-click' menus] from Vista and deprive users of these access points altogether rather than provide the user choice [under the terms of Microsoft's agreement with the government]."

And Google also objects to "the automatic invocation of Microsoft's desktop search product following the boot sequence," which it notes Microsoft is planning to address only by providing unspecified technical information to companies and users.

Microsoft's allies, unsurprisingly, disagree with Google's call for continued oversight.

"Media reports of secret complaints and 11th hour court filings by Google show they are desperate to hamstring their competition in the courtroom rather than compete in the marketplace," said Jim Prendergast, executive director of Americans for Technology Leadership, in a statement. "It's outrageous that they would disregard an agreement reached by the Department of Justice, the state attorneys general, and Microsoft to file a last-minute complaint to advance their own selfish interests."

Americans for Technology Leadership is a tech industry interest group that counts Microsoft as its most prominent member. It frequently issues press releases that one might easily mistake for official Microsoft news releases, such as "Global Shipment of Windows Vista Great News for Consumers."

In 2001, the Los Angeles Times published an article linking the group to what was ostensibly a grassroots letter-writing campaign aimed at promoting settlement of antitrust charges pending against Microsoft at the time.

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