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Google calls for court to tighten Microsoft's anti-trust leash

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Google has escalated its legal tussle with Microsoft over search features built into the Vista operating system. It has asked a federal judge to extend a 2002 antitrust consent decree to ensure Microsoft fulfills its pledge to fully resolve the stand-off.

Google made the request in a legal document filed in US District Court in Washington on Monday, a day before Microsoft attorneys and federal and state prosecutors are scheduled to appear in court for a regularly scheduled hearing on progress in enforcing the sweeping agreement. The consent decree is scheduled to expire in November, but its terms allow for the expiration date to be extended.

Enter Google move center stage. Late last year, the search king filed a complaint with authorities reportedly arguing that Vista's Instant Search - which helps users locate files scattered across their hard drives - put third-party desktop search programs at a disadvantage because it wasn't interchangeable with them.

Microsoft ultimately agreed to modify the Vista feature to mollify critics and hoped that would resolve the issue.

Except that it didn't. In a seven-page friend-of-the-court brief, Google argued the consent decree should be extended because Microsoft can't be trusted to voluntarily follow all its terms.

"Given Microsoft's history of aggressively minimizing the impact of court-ordered relief, it is appropriate for the court to use its authority to extend the final judgment so that it can verify Microsoft's compliance with commitments it has made to resolve this important issue," the brief said. "Without an extension, the court may not have effective means to oversee Microsoft's implementation of these changes and determine whether they are effective in meeting the requirements" of the decree.

Microsoft filed a motion opposing Google's request to intervene in the case as a friend of the court. "In effect, dissatisfied with the Plaintiffs' enforcement of the Final Judgments, Google is seeking to make an 'end-run' around the prohibition on non-parties directly enforcing the decrees by challenging the conclusion of the 19 Plaintiffs that the agreement relating to Vista's desktop search feature outlined in the Joint Status Report resolves all related concerns under the Final Judgments" Microsoft attorneys wrote.

Google's brief argues that the proposed remedy over Instant Search remains highly vague and more time is needed for the company to understand exactly how the revised service will work. Microsoft has said it expects a beta version of the revised software to be available by the end of this year, making it possible it would be released after the November 12 expiration date of the consent decree.

One concern for Google is that under the proposed remedy, Microsoft will continue to present its own desktop search results when queries are made using shortcuts and menus within Vista. Users who prefer Google Desktop or some other third-party desktop search product will have go through an additional step after first viewing the Microsoft results.

Google also fretted about menu entries for search in the Vista start button and elsewhere in the OS. "Google understands that Microsoft may intend to remove these menu entries from Vista and deprive users of these access points altogether rather than provide the user choice required under ... the final judgment," Google attorneys argued.

A PDF of Google's brief is available here. Microsoft's is here. ®

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