Stephen Labaton at the New York Times has a rather odd story today suggesting that pro-business favoritism at the US Department of Justice is helping Microsoft beat an antitrust compliance complaint. Such charges have been rife among Times fans ever since the original 2001 Microsoft-DOJ settlement, but the twist this time is that the underlying complaint was raised by Google about Vista and aside from its dubious nature, such complaints are not to be disclosed until authorized by the court monitoring compliance.
Late last year, Google reportedly complained to the DOJ that there was no way to turn off Vista desktop search indexing which had a deleterious effect on performance for users who preferred Google Desktop Search since it would simultaneously be trying to index the hard disk as well. Per Labaton:
… the Bush administration has sharply changed course by repeatedly defending the company both in the United States and abroad against accusations of anticompetitive conduct, including the recent rejection of a complaint by Google.
It is expected to be discussed at a hearing on the decree in front of Judge Kollar-Kotelly this month.
Google complained to federal and state prosecutors that consumers who try to use its search tool for computer hard drives on Vista were frustrated because Vista has a competing desktop search program that cannot be turned off.
The only problem with this thesis is that a bit of Googling provides a number of people who are only too happy to tell you how to turn Vista desktop search off. In particular, the folks at 4sysops.com list three different ways, including turning it off in the drive properties which is exactly the same way you turn off the annoying and useless Indexing Service in Windows XP. The net is that turning off Vista’s Windows Search Service programmatically when installing the Google Desktop shouldn’t be any problem for Google.
Therefore, there’s either more to the complaint than what Labaton reported or the story was just plain bungled. The real question though is what purpose is served for who by leaking this feeble problem? Joe Wilcox:
What stinks here—and I don’t mean to disparage the Times—is the now public disagreement among the parties. Someone spoke that probably shouldn’t have, and I would love to be the fly on the wall when this mess gets before Kollar-Kotelly. She got the Microsoft case because an appeals court removed trial judge Thomas Penfeld Jackson after he spoke to the news media behind closed doors; and state blabbery derailed a settlement before Jackson ruled against Microsoft in 2000. How sympathetic is she going to be to leaks?
On another Saturday seven years ago, I wrote for CNET News.com about how a series of leaks doomed Microsoft-government settlement talks. Those leaks came about as the Justice Department and Microsoft closed in on a settlement deal that some states opposed.
Here I am again, with several states allegedly in disagreement with the Justice Department about the Microsoft case and some folks talking when they shouldn’t be. In legal proceedings like this one, tongues wag when the eyes don’t like what they see. The leak is a way of applying pressure and putting a clear spin on the information.
Again, I don’t mean to disparage the Times, but today’s story reads like a state attorney general manifesto. The story indicates the Justice Department wanted to drop the Google complaint, and somehow that is pro-business and so, therefore, pro-Microsoft and unjust. Huh?
Apparently Google isn’t considered a business at the Times which likes nothing better than to be used as a mouthpiece if it coincides with its political agenda. Waving the antitrust stick at Microsoft undoubtedly has a salutary effect on competition, but this thin whine just doesn’t make the grade and discredits legitimate complaints.