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Microsoft Releases Vista Search Documentation

Microsoft  on Wednesday released documentation that details changes it has made to Windows Vista in the upcoming Service Pack 1 (SP1) in order to accommodate third-party desktop search engines.

The Vista SP1 beta, which will bow in the next few weeks, contains the promised changes. But part of what is needed is documentation on how the changes actually work. The company posted three documents on its site to enable third parties to tie into Vista's desktop search capabilities.

Microsoft agreed to make changes to Vista SP1 in June after search giant Google  complained to federal regulators that it was being frozen out of Vista's desktop search capabilities.

The company disclosed the impending beta test of SP1 in late August. Although Microsoft did not announce at that time when the beta will begin other than saying "in a few weeks," many industry observers expect it will bow in the next week or two.

"Following through on the commitments we made in court, this week we are releasing three documents to help our partners modify their desktop search applications to work with the search changes in Windows Vista SP1," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement e-mailed to InternetNews.com.

According to the agreement with the government, Microsoft committed to four things.

First, consumers will be able to select a default desktop search program similar to the way they currently select defaults for third-party Web browsers and media players in Windows Vista, according to a company statement issued at the time.

Additionally, the default desktop search program will be launched whenever Windows launches a new top-level window to provide search results. Further, Microsoft will provide links to the default desktop search program on both the Start menu and in Windows Explorer windows.

Finally, Microsoft will provide desktop search competitors with technical information to enable them to optimize performance of their products running on Vista.

At the time, the U.S. Department of Justice agreed that Microsoft's proposed steps would remedy the situation. However, the judge overseeing the company's consent decree last week agreed to allow Google to file a "friend of the court" brief regarding the changes and why it feels they are still inadequate.

The documentation itself consists of a Microsoft knowledge base article describing the changes that have been made in SP1, as well as a Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) document on how to use the search protocol. A third document explains how developers can optimize their code so that it will run without performance problems on Vista.

"In addition to these documents, we [have] provided the Technical Committee (appointed under the terms of the consent decree) with an interim build of Windows Vista SP1 for testing and validation," the Microsoft spokesperson's statement continued.

The upshot is that Microsoft wants to stay on the good side of the law, according to one analyst.

"This is something they had to do … otherwise I don't think they would have done it," Matt Rosoff, lead analyst at researcher Directions on Microsoft, told InternetNews.com. "Microsoft would rather be safe than sorry [because] they don't want to have any further problems with the [US] government."

Indeed, further problems continue to crop up in the case. Just yesterday, a group of states that had participated in the original antitrust settlement with Microsoft and the DoJ known as "the California Group" asked U.S. Federal Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to extend oversight of the company's consent decree for another five years. Most of that oversight is set to expire in mid-November.

Meanwhile, a ruling in Microsoft's appeal of its European Commission antitrust case looms next Monday.