Microsoft caves to Google complaint (and future-hate)

That'll be Thursday's IT Blogwatch then: in which Microsoft responds to Google's antitrust complaint about Vista's desktop search features. Not to mention the seven most annoying things about the future...

Gregg Keizer reports:

Microsoft Corp. has agreed to make changes to Windows Vista's desktop search and indexing tool, but it did not concede, as Google Inc. charged, that the feature violated a 2002 antitrust settlement ... In Vista SP1, Microsoft will allow users and computer manufacturers to select a default search program by using the process already in place for choosing a default browser or media player.


Google's complaint revolved around whether Vista's search was a new feature, as Google claimed, or an extension of a feature in earlier editions of Windows, as Microsoft said. The point was important, since by the 2002 settlement agreement ... Microsoft must help rivals build software that runs smoothly on Windows.

By compromising before a final judgment could be made by the Department of Justice and the 17 state attorneys general, Microsoft avoided a clear-cut ruling on search.

Colin Colehour offers background colehor: [you're fired -Ed.]

A couple of months ago Google made a confidential complaint against Microsoft to the Justice department over Microsoft’s indexing software. Google’s complaint was that Microsoft doesn’t make it easy to turn off the default indexing software in Vista (“Instant Search,” which allows you to search your hard drive) if you chose to use a competitor’s product like Google Desktop. So you would be wasting system resources by running 2 indexing applications.

Last week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that Google’s claims were “baseless”. Well it seems that Microsoft and the Justice department have come to an agreement.

Here's Ken Fisher with more detail:

Service Pack 1 ... [is] expected in beta form by the close of the year.


OEMs will be able to register their desktop search products [as the] default. Default doesn't necessarily mean what you think it means, however ... Microsoft here is splitting the difference, somewhat, as the company will retain Vista's built-in search results in the upper right hand corner search box present on most explorer windows ... even with the default changed, Vista's service will still run and will still provide results in some search locations by default, although switching to another search system should be quite easy. In this way, Microsoft looks to be moving their search-box approach to IE7 into Explorer itself, for IE7 also allows easy drop-down search changes.


Microsoft is ... allowing users to change those "hard-wired" defaults, but not in a universal, thorough way. I suspect that Google will find this compromise to be unacceptable ... but it's clear that Microsoft feels that it has defanged Google's complaint.

Good morning, John Murrell:

Microsoft bears the scars of many an antitrust battle, and even if those souvenirs aren’t as disfiguring as some might want, they make for a company more selective about picking its fights. And when it came to Google’s gripe to the Justice Department that Vista makes it too hard for PC sellers and users to chose an alternative to Windows’ own desktop search, Redmond opted for a strategic withdrawal.


The concessions were enough to satisfy the Justice Department and the attorneys general of 17 states, though Google was left wanting more.

Andy Beal scoffs:

So, we can all thank Google for delaying the release of Vista SP 1. Why? If you were Microsoft, would you be in a hurry to change Vista from its default Microsoft offering? We’ll likely not see SP 1 until the end of the year, giving MSFT almost 12 months to switch computer users over to Instant Search.

It’s a crafty move and proves there’s value in simply seeing what you can get away with.

Douglas McIntyre runs the numbers:

Perhaps Microsoft is getting wise in its old age. Or, perhaps it is getting timid. The company has been hit with antitrust actions in Europe and the U.S. over matters that range from using its operating system to give its internet browser advantages over Netscape to harming RealNetworks (NASDAQ: RNWK) by pushing the Window Media Player with its operating system. Microsoft ended up paying billions of dollars in fines and settlements.

The news certainly represents a change for heart. Microsoft has gotten out in front of the problem rather than waiting to fight an accusation brought by a government agency. For better or worse, this is a new Microsoft.

Joe Weisenthal goes one step further, perhaps too far:

It's not entirely clear whether the original problem was intentional or not on Microsoft's part, but the fact that the company has fixed it so quickly, would suggest some culpability. And so, even as its grip on the market declines, it's fairly clear why Microsoft's brand continues to be tainted and viewed suspiciously.

Pamela Jones takes the blue pill:

This is a proposed solution satisfactory to the parties. However, that doesn't mean that Google or even the court, for that matter, will necessarily agree that these terms are sufficient. In fact, Google has already indicated that it doesn't think they are. And there are some legal questions left unresolved ... One glaring issue is that you can't turn Microsoft's desktop search engine off, even if you want to use Google instead.

My own Alice-in-Wonderland reaction is to ask, is Microsoft trying to think up ways to annoy and harass customers? Or is it just a side effect of other goals? Who in the world would want to use something like that, a resource-depleting application you can't turn off? I'm really puzzled, being a Linux girl. To each his own, of course, but I really can't imagine finding that acceptable.

But Paul Thurrott disagrees:

Give Microsoft a bit of credit for its seemingly never-ending flexibility [this was] a horrifically baseless charge from Internet search giant Google ... we're left with the messy results of a clash of titans ... Microsoft's newfound willingness to change its products at the proverbial drop of a hat is a good thing ... the changes arose out of a complaint made by Google, the clear victor in the battle for Internet search and advertising, and an increasingly powerful force in Web-based applications and services ... Why Microsoft decided to bend to this complaint is unclear ... It is, quite simply, an unexpected turn of events.


Not only was the complaint made in secret and withheld from Microsoft until April 2007, the DOJ's top antitrust official, Thomas O. Barnett, apparently undertook a secret campaign in which he attempted to coerce the various US states involved in the Microsoft antitrust settlement to not pursue the matter.


It turns out that Barnett was formerly employed by the law firm Covington & Burling, which represented Microsoft during its US antitrust settlement ... the US states were so appalled by this apparent ethical lapse that they might have given the Google complaint more merit than it deserves. Faced with a full-fledged rebellion, the DOJ then reversed its decision.


If you're looking for any further evidence that the Microsoft of today is a cowed tech titan and not the belligerent, abusive monopolist of a decade ago, look no further than this agreement. No, Microsoft did not give in completely to Google. But it really did bend over backwards to do right by its increasingly powerful competitor [but] if Microsoft isn't going to give Google everything it wants--like access to Vista's Explorer window-based search boxes--why even bother? Third party desktop search will still be a second-class citizen on Vista. In the end, I'm fascinated that Microsoft is making this change. I just don't understand why they are bothering to do so.

Fake Steve Jobs rants:

Gates & Co. just caved in to demands from Squirrel Boy ... Now look. I hate Microsoft as much if not more than anyone on the planet. But in this case they're caving in for no good reason. We've integrated search into our OS too. It makes sense. And Microsoft's search stuff in Vista is really good ... and is arguably better than what Google makes. That's what our reverse engineering team tells me anyway and they've been pounding on Vista for months.


If you ever needed proof of how badly the antitrust stuff has damaged Microsoft as a competitor, look no further. They've become like artists in the old Soviet Union, proactively censoring themselves so they won't get into trouble with the authorities. Reminds me of poor old Shostakovich, apologizing for his music. I know people think Microsoft got off easy on the antitrust stuff. I disagree. The case left them deeply damaged, internally. It damaged their soul. It messed up their DNA.

Buffer overflow:

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Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at

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