Google: Vista Desktop Search Unfair

Microsoft's desktop search in Vista blocks use of Google's competitor in violation of antitrust settlement, search giant alleges.
Desktop search capabilities built into Windows Vista makes it extremely difficult for users to run Google's (Quote) desktop search instead, and that has prompted the search giant to complain that Microsoft (Quote) is once again engaging in anticompetitive behavior along the lines of earlier ploys against Netscape.

However, Google's complaints to both the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) and the states attorneys general who are monitoring Microsoft's compliance with its 2002 antitrust settlement have met with mixed results thus far, according to reports this week in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Google's complaints allege that Microsoft "hard wired" its own desktop search software into Vista, making it virtually impossible for any third-party search tool to replace the default software for searching users' hard disks.

"Microsoft's current approach with Vista desktop search violates the consent decree and limits consumer choice," Google spokesperson Ricardo Reyes told in an e-mail. "Microsoft's own desktop search product [provides] no way for users to choose an alternate provider," he added.

Additionally, if users do manage to install Google desktop search, competition between the two search engines' indexing programs slows the process to a crawl, according to news reports.

While reluctant to comment further due to the "confidential" nature of ongoing investigations, Reyes did add: "Likewise, Vista makes it impractical to turn off Microsoft's search index."

Spokespersons for the DoJ and for at least one outspoken state attorney general were not immediately available for comment.

In statements to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith said that the company is willing to address Google's concerns but also argued that desktop search does not fall under the purview of its antitrust settlement.

At least initially, Google's complaints didn't make much headway with the feds, according to the New York Times. The paper said in Sunday's edition that assistant attorney general Thomas O. Barnett, the top antitrust official at the DoJ, last month urged states attorneys general to reject Google's complaints.

The Times' report also said that Barnett's previous law firm had represented Microsoft in several antitrust matters, but that he had not worked on those cases and that he also had recused himself from any litigation regarding the software company for more than a year after he joined the Justice Department.

But, according to the reports, several states are still planning their own investigations regarding Google's complaints, and that could cause the DoJ to reverse itself.

In the meantime, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the Federal District Court in Washington, who oversees the antitrust settlement, is expected to air Google's complaints at a hearing later this month, both papers reported.

For its part, Microsoft claims that Vista's desktop search engine's indexing program does not run when other programs are running – so there is no conflict and thus no way for it to slow down Google desktop search's indexing functions.

Additionally, Microsoft officials claim the company has bent over backwards to assure third parties get a fair shake with Vista.

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