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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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June 11, 2007 4:52 PM

Google's antitrust complaint: Time for transparency

Posted by Brier Dudley

The New York Times ran a nice story about backstage jockeying to get Google's antitrust complaint about Vista onto the front burner.

Those negotiations seem to be the story, not some newfound sympathy that the Bush administration has for Microsoft -- they've been kissy for six years now.

It's also old news that Microsoft has learned to lobby and make nice with the government. What will be interesting is seeing how gracefully it can make the leap to the next administration.

Meanwhile, Google seems to be asserting its newfound political influence.

But the spat over Google's toolbar seems inconsequential compared with the way the administration has sided with Microsoft in the European Union's antitrust case and swung for Microsoft in China, Korea and India.

Does that mean the Department of Justice is going soft on the toolbar issue? It's hard to tell with the amount of information that's been provided; so far all we have is the Microsoft-Netscape specter being raised before the specifics are disclosed. (That also seems really outdated; isn't Google doing an end-run around the PC?)

One thing that is known is that the feds and states are going through the routine process of writing a status report for the judge overseeing the case. It's a six-way process that has Microsoft, the feds and five states all trying to spin the report their way.

These reports have been prepared for years, but this may be the first time one of the sides has tried to change their composition through newspaper stories. (Microsoft will often offer background briefings to help reporters "understand" what the reports say, but after the reports have been written.)

Did the DOJ act differently this time by suggesting the toolbar complaint isn't worth pursuing? It's not the first complaint that has been rejected.

How much of an issue is the Google toolbar on Vista? I thought most consumer PCs sold in the U.S. were now preloaded with either the Google toolbar or with Google search as the default setting in Internet Explorer.

Could the heightened attention on the toolbar be payback for Microsoft complaining to antitrust regulators about Google's DoubleClick acquisition?

I hope we're not seeing a trend. Next will we see Microsoft and other software companies complaining about Google's apparently exclusive deal to provide third-party applications on Apple's iPhone?

Inside baseball aside, this is a great opportunity to ask Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to consider making Microsoft's antitrust compliance process less secretive. I know it's late in the game but why not set a precedent?

The public should have an opportunity to review the complaints and remedies of conduct that are allegedly hurting consumers. That would also make it harder for attorneys general to negotiate with innuendo and let their constituents have a say on what's important. It would also help people decide whether public servants are doing their best to protect them or corporate interests.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.