MS ANTITRUST - Google pushes court on Microsoft search

Google has escalated its antitrust battle with Microsoft by questioning its rival's promised changes to Windows Vista search and asking a US federal judge to extend oversight to make sure Microsoft follows through.

In a seven-page brief it's asking for permission to file with a federal court in Washington, Google staked out the same position it voiced last week.

"Microsoft's hardwiring of its own desktop search product into Windows Vista violates the final judgment in this case," the brief read.

Microsoft responded by saying there's nothing new to Google's latest manoeuvre. "We believe we went the extra mile to resolve these issues in a spirit of compromise," company spokesperson, Jack Evans, said. "The government has clearly stated that it is satisfied with the changes we're making. Google has provided no new information that should suggest otherwise in their filing."

Less than a week ago, Microsoft agreed to make modifications to Vista's handling of desktop search. On Monday, however, Google again said the changes weren't sufficient. "The remedies won by the Department of Justice and state Attorneys General from Microsoft are a positive step, but consumers will likely need further measures to ensure meaningful choice," Google's chief legal officer, David Drummond, said. "Ultimately, these issues raise the need for continued judicial oversight of Microsoft's practices, to ensure that consumers' interests are best served."

Among several objections listed in the brief, Google said Vista would continue to call on Instant Search when users ran searches from locales such as Windows Explorer, and that users would still not be able to easily disable Microsoft's desktop search.

And while the deal struck last week would have Microsoft allow users to select a default search tool in Vista, then use that tool for searches done from the operating system's Start menu, Google hinted that Microsoft may cut off its nose to spite its - or its rival's - face. "Google understands that Microsoft may intend to remove these [Search] menu entries from Vista and deprive users of these access points altogether rather than provide the user choice," Google charged.

To better monitor Microsoft's promises, Google suggested to federal district court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who oversees the 2002 antitrust decree, that she extend her oversight. Sections of the settlement, including the part that would conceivably pertain to search, are to expire on November 12, but government regulators can unilaterally ask to extend that deadline by two years, or even an additional three after that to November 2012.

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Gregg Keizer

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