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Microsoft Search Compromise Could Hinder Innovation

An antitrust complaint filed by Google is forcing Microsoft to change the way its Windows Vista operating system handles desktop search queries ... and perhaps its future.

Microsoft has agreed to change the way its Windows Vista operating system handles desktop search queries to answer a confidential antitrust complaint filed by Google. But no one is really happy about the compromise and Microsoft's acquiescence may constrain the software industry's future ability to innovate.

In a joint filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Justice, 17 state Attorneys General, and the District of Columbia said that the agreement with Microsoft "will resolve any issues the complaint may raise under the final judgments" and that the Antitrust Division is continuing to work with Microsoft to provide technical documentation of its code as required by consent decrees.

Microsoft maintains Google's complaint is without merit despite having not seen the document, or so a Microsoft spokesperson insists. And that's entirely plausible given that Google, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the California Attorney General's Office declined to make Google's complaint available to InformationWeek.

A spokesperson for the California Attorney General said that Google's filing, as investigatory material, is not be subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act.

So it is that Microsoft is willing to address Google's ostensibly meritless claim sight unseen. "We're pleased we were able to reach an agreement with all the states and the Justice Department that addresses their concerns so that everyone can move forward," said Brad Smith, senior VP and general counsel of Microsoft, in a statement.

Google is glad to see its issues addressed but remains unsatisfied. "Microsoft's current approach to Vista desktop search clearly violates the consent decree and limits consumer choice," said David Drummond, senior VP and chief legal officer at Google, in an e-mailed statement. "We are pleased that as a result of Google's request that the consent decree be enforced, the Department of Justice and state Attorneys General have required Microsoft to make changes to Vista. These remedies are a step in the right direction, but they should be improved further to give consumers greater access to alternate desktop search providers."

And California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. isn't entirely happy, either. "This agreement -- while not perfect -- is a positive step towards greater competition in the software industry," he said in a statement. "It will enhance the ability of consumers to select the desktop search tool of their choice."

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