Microsoft will tweak Windows Vista to enable the easy use of other vendors’ desktop search applications, a response to a complaint by search giant Google.
News of the agreement was included in an U.S. Department of Justice report on Microsoft’s compliance with final judgments of the U.S. versus Microsoft anti-trust case.
As shipped, the Vista operating system includes a desktop search function that works in similar fashion to desktop search applications offered by Google and others. Under the new agreement, Vista users will be given a choice as to whether they want to stick with the built-in Vista OEM (original equipment manufacture) desktop search software or use another company’s product as the default for desktop search.
“After completing their investigation of the complaint, plaintiffs worked together to reach an agreement by Microsoft with the goal of promoting user and OEM choice for desktop search in Windows Vista,” said the justice department.
Not only will Microsoft “create a mechanism” for users to select a default program for desktop search, said the government, but vendors will also be able to register their desktop search programs for this default, “in the same way that ISVs (independent software vendors) can register third-party Web browsers and media players as the default in Windows today.”
The default desktop search will run whenever Windows launches a new top-level window to provide search results. “This will include an existing location on the Start menu that a user can select to display additional search results in a new window,” said the justice department.
Vista includes search boxes in the upper-right corner of some windows, the department noted. Vista will continue to show search results in those windows when people enter queries. “Microsoft has agreed, however, to add a link that, if clicked, will launch the default desktop search program and display search results from that program.”
Addressing concerns that the Vista desktop search will continue running even when another desktop search program is in use, and therefore make the system run slower, Microsoft agreed its program will “cede precedence over computing resources to any other software product, including third-party desktop search products and their respective search indices,” said the government.
Microsoft agreed to also provide technical information that will let Google and other desktop search vendors design their software “to optimize their priorities on the computer and minimize any impact on performance.”
The changes will be part of Vista Service Pack 1, scheduled for release later this year.
A Kinder, Gentler Microsoft
“I think Microsoft is doing the right thing,” Chris Swenson, director of software industry analysis at NPD, told TechNewsWorld. “Given the situation they are in, I think they are making the right strategic decision. They don’t want to get entangled in any more lawsuits.”
Nevertheless, the announcement came as a bit of a surprise to Swenson. “I can’t imagine Apple opening up its Spotlight (desktop search) to other parties,” he said. “I think Microsoft is kind of sensitive to the anti-trust complaints.”
Microsoft is “definitely in a heated competition with Google for what PC users see on their desktop,” In-Stat analyst Gerry Kaufhold told TechNewsWorld. “Google is introducing not only search products that run on your PC, but they are also introducing ‘office-like’ software that competes with Microsoft Office for the key productivity applications that people use.”
Microsoft, since it “dominates with the operating system,” can make a PC load all Microsoft ancillary software, and it can “tightly couple all their applications to provide optimal performance, so the Microsoft ‘built in’ desktop or Internet search applications would be expected to out-perform other products that an end-user downloads and installs from third parties,” Kaufhold said.
The announcement about desktop search “indicates that Microsoft is closely monitoring the market, and showing their willingness to respond to issues that get brought up,” he added. “Last year, Microsoft was racing to bring Vista to market, so they were understandably focused on making sure the applications within Vista worked, and worked well. This year, with Vista in full production and over 40 million units shipped, the feedback from users and comments from the industry are coming in, and Google wants better performance when running on Windows Vista.”
With this “quick and positive” response, Microsoft tends to look like a “good neighbor” but may also “head off complaints that might come from Europe later on,” said Kaufhold.
“I see Microsoft being pro-active in this case, but also remember that the announcement is today but the actual solution won’t occur until Vista Service Pack 1 ships, which may be late in 2007,” he added
“During the next few months, Microsoft Vista users will have plenty of time to use the built-in search facilities of Vista and see if they like it,” he said. “If they do, it gives Microsoft some ‘stickiness’ for their Vista search engine, so that when the Service Pack 1 comes out, maybe not quite as many people will opt to install the Google solution. So I see this as a win-win-win for Microsoft.”