Judge okays Google's brief in Vista search beef

The federal judge in charge of holding Microsoft to a 2002 antitrust settlement decided this week to let Google file a brief spelling out its objection to the June agreement between Microsoft and government regulators regarding desktop search features in Windows Vista.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted Google's request to file an friend-of-the-court brief in which the search company questioned Microsoft's promise to change Vista's search capabilities. The brief, which Google first submitted June 25, is part of the company's ongoing legal battle with its rival over search.

"[While] the Court has no basis on which to conclude that the resolution of the Google complaint agreed upon by the parties is not an appropriate resolution...the Court shall grant Google's motion," Kollar-Kotelly wrote in an order filed Sept. 4.

Google's campaign started earlier this year when it complained to federal antitrust officials that Vista discouraged customers from using other search software, including its own programs. In June, Microsoft agreed to changes in how Vista handles search and promised that users would be able to select their preferred desktop search engine in Service Pack 1 (SP1), which it would release in beta during 2007.

The deal wasn't enough, Google retorted. "Ultimately, these issues raise the need for continued judicial oversight of Microsoft's practices, to ensure that consumers' interests are best served." David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said at the time. Google suggested that Kollar-Kotelly extend her oversight responsibilities, most of which are scheduled to expire Nov. 12.

Even though she allowed Google to file its brief, Kollar-Kotelly had made her position clear in June during a status hearing on Microsoft's settlement compliance. "The plaintiffs, as far as I'm concerned, stand in the shoes of the consumer," she said. "Google is not a party in this case." She echoed the "stand in the shoes" line in the order issued this week, and again noted that she felt Google's request was inappropriate.

"As to the possibility of extending the Final Judgment, the Court noted that a sua sponte extension did not appear appropriate, absent either a request by the parties for an extension or evidence indicating that a violation had actually occurred," she said in her order.

Microsoft said it is happy with her ruling, even though she allowed Google's brief. "We're pleased that the Court reaffirmed that the resolution we reached with the plaintiffs was appropriate and rejected Google's request for an extension of the consent decree," said spokesman Jack Evans in an e-mail Friday.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice and the states involved in the settlement filed opinions on whether the monitoring of Microsoft should continue after November. The parties effectively split: Six states and the District of Columbia asked for a two-year extension, federal regulators and five states said they didn't see the need. Kollar-Kotelly will presumably rule on the extension Tuesday during the next scheduled status hearing.

The group which asked for more oversight was led by California, Google's home state. In the report filed last week, California, D.C., Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Massachusetts specifically called out search several times as a reason why Kollar-Kotelly should continue watching Microsoft's moves.

Google did not reply to a request for comment Friday on the judge's ruling.

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