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Google reportedly says Microsoft Windows Vista puts rivals at disadvantage

Sunday, reports indicated Google Inc. complained to antitrust officials that Windows Vista operating system software of Microsoft Corp puts rivals at a disadvantage in violation of Microsoft’s antitrust settlement.

In a white paper sent to the Justice department and state attorney generals in April, Google Inc. said that the Windows operating system hinders consumers from using desktop applications provided by Google and others. Mountain View, California-based Google’s complaints reportedly relate to desktop search, or software that enables users to scan the content of their hard drives, emails and other personal information.

The company stated in the white paper that Windows operating system does not enable desktop search applications provided by Google and others to be used. Reports said that in the complaint, Google alleges that the Windows Vista search feature slows down Google’s competing Google Desktop Search or GDS program, discouraging consumers from using its search program.

Also, Windows Vista’s search feature cannot be disabled, thereby forcing users to forego GDS, or put up with drastically reduced system performance as both search programs index the contents of the hard drive. „Microsoft’s current approach with Vista desktop search violates its agreement with the government and hurts consumers. The search boxes built throughout Vista are hard-wired to Microsoft’s own desktop search product, with no way for users to choose an alternate provider from these visible search access points. Likewise, Vista makes it impractical to turn off Microsoft’s search index,” a Google spokesman reportedly said.

The new concern comes five years after the resolution of Microsoft’s landmark US antitrust case. The New York Times reported Saturday that prosecutors from some states believed Google’s complaint to have merit and plan to pursue it, despite the US Justice Department’s initial decision not to take action. Google asked the court overseeing the antitrust decree to order Microsoft to redesign Vista in order to enable users to turn off its built-in desktop search program so that competing programs could function better.

However, Microsoft responded by saying that while it was possible to turn off its own-desktop search feature, it was not easy. The company said that consumers could access Google Desktop Search in several ways through Vista, including directly by icons on the desktop and in the „Start” Menu. The company added that its desktop search indexer does not use any computing power when Google’s own indexer or other applications are in use. Microsoft said that it had been working with the Justice Department, state attorneys general and the technical committee to work through potential violations by Vista.

The company also said that while it made changes to Vista based on the review, it was not asked to alter desktop search. Microsoft said that it would be willing to make more changes in Vista, to a point, to address Google’s concerns. However, the company said that it does not believe Vistas desktop search tool violates the consent decree. Google’s allegations are under review by the Justice Department and state attorneys general who were parties to a consent decree that resolved the government’s antitrust case against Microsoft in 2002.

The suit was originally brought by Web browser company, NetScape. The company had alleged that Microsoft used its operating system monopoly to oust it from the Web browser market by tying Windows and its competing Internet Explorer browser closely together. Microsoft was determined to be a monopoly, but an Appeals Court ruling allowed the company to narrowly escape being broken up. In return, Microsoft agreed to take several steps to avoid future anticompetitive behavior including information sharing with competitors, opening parts of its proprietary source code, unbundling middleware, and loosening its grip on PC manufacturers.

Rivals have long expressed concern that the government’s anti-trust settlement with Microsoft did not do enough to prevent it from using the dominance of Windows to its unfair advantage in other segments of the market. Google and Microsoft have locked horns in the past over issues ranging from Google’s Book Search feature to competing enterprise search and personal productivity applications. Google previously raised concerns about Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser defaulting to its own Windows Live search engine in certain cases. Microsoft alleged that Google’s recent deal to buy Double-Click for $3.1 billion presents antitrust issues for the Internet advertising market.

Last month, Google confirmed in a regulatory filing that the Federal Trade Commission was looking for additional information related to the company’s acquisition of Double-Click. In order to better compete with Microsoft, Google has increasingly been offering programs that compete with Microsoft’s traditional PC software. The free Google Desktop Search program is one example of Google’s expansion beyond its core Web search business. (