Google Charges Microsoft With Illegal Search Practices

Google has raised the ghost of Microsoft's past -- anti-competitive practices -- in a complaint to the U.S. government about Windows Vista.

A story in Sunday's New York Times said that Google filed a confidential antitrust complaint, arguing that Vista discourages users from using non-Microsoft search tools on the desktop. The story added that Google's complaint was lodged with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and also went out to each state's attorney general.

Additionally, the DOJ's top antitrust official sent a letter to each attorney general recommending that they reject Google's complaint, the story said. Some state officials disagreed with the idea of dismissing Google's charges, it said.

Google's argument is basically that the new search technology in Vista, which is an updated version of previous ones, is anticompetitive because it gives an unfair advantage to Microsoft's version over third-party search programs -- in this case, Google desktop search functionality.

Analyst Matt Rosoff, of independent analyst company Directions on Microsoft, doesn't feel Google's charges hold much water. "This case seems weak to me," Rosoff said.

"Microsoft is arguing that there has been search capability in Windows for a long time -- it wasn't very good, but it was there. Vista is an improvement on it."

That's why he doesn't see much merit in Google's case. "It's hard to argue that Microsoft can't make improvements to functionality in the operating system," Rosoff said.

He believes Google is trying to avoid being the "Netscape of the 1990s." Netscape was, at one time, the dominant browser, but ended up being marginalized, nearly to the point of death, when Microsoft bundled its Internet Explorer browser with Windows.

"I think Google's really worried about Microsoft taking desktop search and extending it to Web search, and then [users] go to the Web and are using Microsoft search instead of Google search," Rosoff said.

Google's complaint about Microsoft search is the latest in a series of battles among the two Internet giants. Both companies are working furiously to gain the upper hand in the search field because of the advertising dollars that come with it. Both have also recently acquired large advertising companies -- Google buying DoubleClick and Microsoft buying aQuantive -- to beef up their ad platforms.

Microsoft, for its part, recently hinted that regulators should take a peek into the proposed Google-DoubleClick merger. Microsoft Vice-President and General Counsel Brad Smith said in a statement on the Microsoft Web site that the "proposed acquisition raises serious competition concerns," the exact same thing that Google accused Microsoft of doing.

Microsoft has yet to make much of dent in Google's search supremacy. The latest figures from comScore, a company that tracks Internet search usage, show that Google continues to lead the market by a wide margin, and is at 49.7 percent. Meanwhile Microsoft is actually losing ground, and now stands a distant third, behind Google and Yahoo, at 10.3 percent of searches. Google will certainly do everything in its power to maintain its position, while Microsoft will undoubtedly keep trying to chip away at it.

Toward that end, Rosoff said Google's complaint "could be the beginning of something" that picks up momentum, but that it's all just part of being the world's preeminent software company. "Microsoft will be facing anti-trust issues for a long time," he said.

About the Author

Keith Ward is editor of Virtualization Review magazine. You can contact Keith at [email protected].