Microsoft To Make Changes to Vista Search

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Microsoft has agreed to make changes to its search capabilities in Windows Vista, in response to federal anti-competitive charges leveled by Google. The changes will be part of Vista’s service pack 1, which Microsoft said it hopes to have ready by the “end of the year.” In a document filed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia late Tuesday, Microsoft promised to make changes “with the goal of promoting user and OEM choice for desktop search in Windows Vista”, according to the report.

The initial complaint, filed by Google last December, alleged that Vista’s desktop search capabilities violated the conditions of the consent decree that allows the U.S. Department of Justice to monitor Microsoft’s products for potential monopolistic practices. Google claimed, essentially, that desktop search in Vista discourages competition because it’s nearly impossible to use a third-party search tool, such as Google’s, to search a local hard drive. In the agreement, Microsoft agreed to alter Vista search in three primary ways:

• First, Microsoft will create a way for end-users and OEMs to pick a default desktop search tool. The current default is Vista desktop search, but changes will make it easier to choose another search engine, leaving an opening for Google or other competitors.

• Second, Microsoft agreed to provide a link to the default search program from the start menu, and from an “Explorer” window. It appears from the report that Vista search will also be an option in those places.

• The third part involves informing the public about the changes: Microsoft will emphasize to OEMs and end-users “that there is no technical reason,” the report states, they can’t use third-party desktop search tools. In addition, Microsoft will show other desktop search providers how to optimize their search tools on Vista.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown Jr. said in a statement that the changes are a victory for consumers. “This agreement — while not perfect — is a positive step towards greater competition in the software industry. It will enhance the ability of consumers to select the desktop search tool of their choice.” Google’s complaint was sent to the attorneys general of all 50 states as well, and many, including California, sided with Google.

Others, however, are skeptical that opening up Vista search will have a huge impact. “No, it’s not a big deal … It’s a fairly minor change from a strategic perspective,” said analyst Matt Rosoff, with independent analyst company Directions on Microsoft.

End-users and OEMs can now change the defaults, but that doesn’t often happen, Rosoff believes. “The vast majority of users are going to use default search engine,” which in most cases will be Vista’s search. One prominent exception to that is Dell, which uses Google search as the default tool.

Rosoff thinks Microsoft was “probably a little taken by surprise” by Google’s original objections to Vista’s search, given that it only works on a hard drive. “I think [Microsoft] had stopped short of where they could have gone. If they had built Web search into the interface, there could have been [greater] grounds for objection,” Rosoff said.

In the end, Rosoff wasn’t surprised by how meekly Microsoft agreed to make the changes to Vista. “If Microsoft can avoid anti-trust cases as much as possible, they’re going to try really hard to do that,” he said.

Microsoft and Google were unavailable for comment at presstime.


[Submitted by Imran Asad]

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