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Google: Vista search changes fall short

Microsoft's proposed changes to search functions in Windows Vista, per a pact last week with regulators, don't go far enough to promote "user choice," search giant tells antitrust judge in new filing.

Google on Monday said it's still not convinced that Microsoft's planned tweaks to Windows Vista go far enough to head off its antitrust concerns.

"It appears that more may need to be done to provide a truly unbiased choice of desktop search products in Vista and achieve compliance with the Final Judgment," attorneys for the search giant wrote in a seven-page amicus brief obtained by CNET and filed with U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

The filing arrived one day before Kollar-Kotelly, who has been overseeing Redmond's compliance with a 2002 antitrust consent decree with the Bush Administration, is scheduled to hear from government and Microsoft attorneys at their quarterly court hearing in Washington.

Last week, in a move that got the nod from federal regulators, Microsoft said in its most joint recent court filing that it had agreed to take three steps in relation to Vista's desktop search function.

First, it will add a mechanism that would allow both computer makers and individuals to choose a default desktop search program, much as they can choose a rival browser or media player. Second, it will launch that default program "whenever Windows launches a new top-level window to provide search results." And third, it will "inform" software makers, computer makers and users that "the desktop search index in Vista is designed to run in the background and cede precedence over computing resources to any other software product, including third-party desktop search products and their respective search indices."

But Google said in its Monday filing that it needs more details about those plans before it can assess whether they go far enough to assuage concerns that first surfaced last year.

For instance, "it appears that Microsoft will continue to show its own desktop search results when users run searches from prominent shortcuts and menu entries throughout the operating system, though users will now be given a mechanism to request results from their chosen desktop search product by taking a second step after they have first viewed results from Microsoft's product," Google's attorneys wrote.

Google said it was also left with the impression that Microsoft planned to remove the "Search" option altogether from the Windows Start menu and from menus that appear when one right-clicks the desktop, rather than provide a choice of search functions there.

With a portion of the consent decree related to middleware--and by extension, the search issue--scheduled to expire this November, Google's attorneys also urged the judge to consider postponing that date so that regulators can continue to keep an eye on Microsoft's implementation of the search changes. (Microsoft has said it expects the changes will be available in beta form by the end of the year as part of Service Pack 1.)

Microsoft spokesman Jack Evans dismissed the latest filing, saying his company "went the extra mile to resolve these issues in a spirit of compromise."

"The government has clearly stated that it is satisfied with the changes we're making," Evans said in an e-mail interview. "Google has provided no new information that should suggest otherwise in their filing."

Late on Monday, Microsoft filed a legal response that argued that Google shouldn't be allowed to challenge the desktop-search arrangement struck with regulators.

Stay tuned to CNET for coverage of the court hearing from Washington on Tuesday.