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Originally published June 20, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 28, 2007 at 4:17 PM

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Microsoft to revise desktop search on Vista

Microsoft has agreed to make substantial changes to a feature of the Windows Vista operating system in response to an antitrust complaint...

Seattle Times technology reporter

Microsoft has agreed to make substantial changes to a feature of the Windows Vista operating system in response to an antitrust complaint from archrival Google.

The software giant will change the desktop search feature in Vista so that competitors' products can be set as the default choice for finding files stored locally on a computer, according to a report released late Tuesday by Microsoft and government lawyers charged with enforcing their landmark 2001 antitrust settlement.

Google had complained to the Department of Justice that Vista's built-in desktop search feature limits consumer choice and violates the settlement.

In public statements last week, Google noted the desktop search boxes found in the Start menu and folders of Windows Vista can't be changed to use a competing desktop search tool.

The changes outlined in the report — a quarterly update on the consent decree that spells out what Microsoft must do to remedy its past anti-competitive conduct with Windows — appear to address Google's complaint.

A Google statement said: "These remedies are a step in the right direction, but they should be improved further to give consumers greater access to alternate desktop search providers."

Vista will still handle desktop search in some cases, such as in Explorer and Control Panel windows, where the search doesn't open a new window to display results. In those cases, Vista will also display links to the default search engine.

The changes will be implemented in the first service pack for Vista. Microsoft has not set a firm date for releasing this software update, but the report Tuesday said test versions will be available for review this year.

Desktop search is an important piece of the puzzle as online services — which now perform many tasks once handled by desktop software alone — have grown in importance.

Desktop search tools from Google, Yahoo and other rivals can be set to link directly to those companies' Web search engines and other online services, where the companies seek to draw more users and sell ads.

Microsoft made a point of not tying its desktop search to its own Web search service so as not to run afoul of competition laws.

Google also complained that Vista's indexer, which creates a constantly updated database for the desktop search functions to quickly scour, could not be easily turned off.

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Google's desktop search creates its own index.

Microsoft said its indexer could be disabled but that it need not be because it was designed to stop using computing resources when other applications are running.

Microsoft will publish more details to help software developers build programs that take advantage of this, the report said.

Negotiations between Microsoft and lawyers for the Department of Justice and 17 states involved in the antitrust settlement started in December.

Talks continued over the weekend and on Tuesday as the parties ironed out the language that would appear in the joint status report.

While rebutting Google's points, Microsoft had struck a conciliatory tone in its public statements, suggesting it was open to considering changes to Vista that would appease all parties.

"We're pleased we were able to reach an agreement with all the States and the Justice Department that addresses their concerns so that everyone can move forward," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said in a statement Tuesday night.

There was disagreement between the states and the Justice Department over whether the desktop search feature should be considered "middleware" — a term defined in the settlement.

Had the feature been found to be middleware, changes would have been imposed on Microsoft. That discussion was made moot by the new agreement.

The report will likely be discussed in detail next Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com

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