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Google Maintains Pressure On Microsoft In EU

Microsoft's antitrust battles are still far from over with the European Union. Google is raising issues about how users select a search provider in Windows Vista.
After meeting with European Union regulators Monday, a Google executive refused to say whether Microsoft's concession over how users select a search provider has gone far enough to avoid antitrust allegations.

David Drummond, Google's senior vice president of corporate development, spoke to reporters after meeting with EU officials, the Associated Press said, but declined to provide details on the talks.

"It's been our view that any new version of Microsoft products that include search, that that be done in a way that preserves user choice for search and other applications," Drummond told the AP. He also said it was "too early to tell" if it was Google's opinion that Windows Vista would trigger an antitrust investigation.

Three weeks ago, Microsoft placated the EU's Competition Commission -- which had threatened to declare the upcoming Windows Vista in violation of the 2004 antitrust ruling that fined the American developer more than $600 million -- by announcing several last-minute changes to the operating system. Among them: a promise that it would craft Internet Explorer 7 so that it explicitly asked users which search engine they wanted as the default.

As early as May, Google raised questions about Vista, IE 7, and search choice. Then, Google claimed that the update process from IE 6 to IE 7 gave Microsoft unfair advantage. The two companies compete in several areas, including search, where as of September, Microsoft had just 11.9 percent of the market compared with Google's 45.1 percent.

Even before that, EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes had pointed out possible problems in Vista, including IE 7, Vista's integrated search tool, and Microsoft's decision to implement a new electronic document format, XPS, to compete with Adobe's popular PDF. In June, Microsoft caved, and said it would strip "Save As PDF" features from its Office 2007 suite, and let computer makers remove the XPS (XML Paper Specification) from Vista entirely.

Microsoft has also been embroiled in a weeks-long public relations battle with Symantec and McAfee over security provisions in the 64-bit version of Vista. The two security software makers, now rivals with Microsoft in the market, have objected to a new technology, dubbed PatchGuard, that locks them out of the Vista kernel. The same day Microsoft promised to alter how users choose a search provider in IE 7, it also said it would build APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that others could use for limited access to information going into the kernel.

"In part, it's the venue," said Joe Wilcox, analyst with JupiterResearch, in explaining why Google -- and other Microsoft competitors -- have trekked to Brussels and the EU's headquarters. "The EU has fined Microsoft twice already, and companies have been able to exert pressure, or perceived pressure, that resulted in Microsoft making changes to Vista."

It's just business, in other words. "Some of these complaints will be legitimate, and some will be competitive [tactics]," said Wilcox. "If' there's a vulnerability, someone will exploit it."

Google went to the EU, added Wilcox, because it struck out in the U.S. with the federal government. In May, the Justice Department concluded that IE 7's search feature didn't violate the terms of the antitrust agreement Microsoft has with the government.

"Google's complaint with the DoJ lead nowhere," said Wilcox.