Google Goes Back to Court Over Vista Desktop Search

Google remains undaunted in its quest to become a legal player in the battle to keep Windows Vista's desktop search subject to federal scrutiny.

Following a judge's pronouncement last week that Google has no legal standing in the case, Google filed another brief yesterday in U.S. District Court asking to be let in, as reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Todd Bishop.

At issue is Microsoft's implementation of desktop search in Vista, which it calls "Instant Search." Google has been claiming for some time that it unfairly restricts competition among other desktop search products, including its own Google Desktop, by making it too difficult to choose competing search products, and ensuring that those non-Microsoft desktop search tools work poorly.

Microsoft rather quickly agreed to make changes to search functionality, to be released with Vista service pack 1, due out early next year. But the proposed alterations didn't go far enough for Google, which filed a "friend of the court" brief last week stating that Microsoft needed to be more forthcoming about the specific changes. Google also asserted that the court needed to continue its oversight of Microsoft's business practices past the original Nov. 12 deadline, until after the service pack is released. That's the only way, it said, to ensure that Instant Search doesn't unfairly discriminate against rivals.

Microsoft counter-argued that it satisfied the federal government, since the court accepted its recommendations for Vista search changes, and that Google should mind its own business. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who oversees Microsoft's efforts to comply with the 2002 ruling that it remain open to competition, agreed with Microsoft, stating that "Google is not a party in this case."

But Google still wants to be a party crasher.

"While all parties have given attention to the issue of Microsoft's violation over many months, the remedial measures appear to have been settled upon very quickly, and few details have been provided to Google, the public, and the Court," Google complained in the brief.

Google also believes its voice should be heard.

"The Court has full authority to consider information beyond that provided by plaintiffs to assist it in fulfilling this role," it wrote. That's because the stakes are so high. "Google would not suggest that the Court consider using this authority to require additional information if the matter at hand were minor or routine. Desktop search, however, is the first new technology since entry of the Final Judgment to qualify as middleware," the brief states.

Middleware, under the consent decree governing Microsoft's behavior after it was found guilty of having a monopoly via Windows, is subject to government oversight. Google argues that Instant Search is middleware, while Microsoft argues that Instant Search is a feature of the operating system, and therefore not middleware and subject to the same restrictions.

About the Author

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