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RealTime IT News

Court Sides With Microsoft in Google Search Rift

WASHINGTON – Google  got a thumbs down today on its last-minute effort to inject itself in the Microsoft  antitrust compliance proceedings.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said Google should take its complaints to the Department of Justice (DoJ).

Google has objected that Windows Vista desktop search is configured to favor Microsoft over other desktop search rivals. Microsoft responded to Google's complaints last week in a deal approved by the DoJ and the states.

But Monday, Google attempted to skirt around the Microsoft-DoJ agreement on Vista desktop search features by asking Kollar-Kotelly to accept a brief calling for more Microsoft changes.

"I do rely on the [DoJ] as the representative of consumers," said Kollar-Kotelly, who presided over the Microsoft antitrust trial and continues to monitor its compliance with the 2002 consent degree. "The plaintiffs, as far as I'm concerned, stand in the shoes of the consumer."

Kollar-Kotelly said Google was not a part of the original antitrust lawsuit and lacks legal standing to intervene. The DoJ and the states, she said, had agreed to the Microsoft changes.

Steve Houck, an attorney representing the states, told Kollar-Kotelly Google complaint brought out "some very good points," but Microsoft responded in a manner that "represents from our standpoint a reasonable solution."

Google did, though, gain some measure of satisfaction at Tuesday's hearing. Kollar-Kotelly said she would rule at a later date on the search and online advertising giant's request that the judge extend her oversight of middleware, which includes browsing and search tools, past the mid-November deadline.

"I'm not going to take any position on it right now," Kollar-Kotelly said, noting there are several more compliance hearings to deal with the issue before the November deadline. Microsoft has also agreed to supply beta code for the changes before November.

Both Google and Microsoft claimed victory after the hearing.

"We're pleased and we're going to work hard to implement the resolution we reached with all the governments involved and presented to the court today," Microsoft's Brad Smith, senior vice president and general counsel, said in a statement.

Jack Evans, Microsoft's senior public relations manager, added that it was his understanding that Kollar-Kotelly did not say she would rule on the "substance" of the Google filing, only whether the brief could be filed.

Google said it accomplished its goal.

"This is about making sure that consumers have easy access to the widest choice of tools they want," Alan Davidson, Google's senior policy counsel, said in a statement.

"As a result of our raising concerns about Vista desktop search, the DoJ and the states secured remedies from Microsoft that will provide consumers more choices than existed before."

As for Kollar-Kotelly extending her oversight of Microsoft's middleware compliance efforts, Davidson said, "We are pleased that the authorities have provided important oversight here, and hope they will closely monitor the implementation to ensure that consumers' interests are served."

Last week, Microsoft said it would make it simple for users to select whatever desktop search engine they want to use, just as users can currently do with browsers and media players in Vista. It also promised the search engine chosen by a user would launch in a top-level window to provide search results.

Microsoft also promised to add links on the Start Menu and on Windows Explorer windows to the user's chosen desktop search tool. Finally, Microsoft said, it will provide desktop search competitors with technical information needed to optimize the performance of their products running on Vista.