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With IE judgment expiring, Microsoft files antitrust complaint against Google

On antitrust front, Microsoft goes from the hunted to the hunter.

By , Network World
March 31, 2011 12:24 PM ET

Network World - Nearly a decade after settling an antitrust case regarding the bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows, Microsoft is on the verge of putting the case behind it for good and is pursuing antitrust claims of its own against Google's dominant search engine.

The United States vs. Microsoft case was settled in 2002 and originally scheduled to expire in 2007. But although the judgment was extended, Microsoft is now just two weeks away from meeting the "final milestones" of the court order.

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While Microsoft tries to put its own antitrust problem to rest, the company is piling on to the various complaints about Google, whose search engine is far more widely used than Microsoft's Bing or Yahoo.

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith wrote this week that "Microsoft is filing a formal complaint with the European Commission as part of the Commission's ongoing investigation into whether Google has violated European competition law."

"As the only viable search competitor to Google in the U.S. and much of Europe, we respect their engineering prowess and competitive drive," Smith wrote in a blog post. "Google has done much to advance its laudable mission to 'organize the world's information,' but we're concerned by a broadening pattern of conduct aimed at stopping anyone else from creating a competitive alternative."

The blog post is titled "Adding our voice to concerns about search in Europe," positioning Microsoft as just another concerned party, rather than the primary beneficiary of any legal action against Google.

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Yet Microsoft's allegations against Google are reminiscent of the complaints U.S. regulators made about Microsoft a decade ago. A summary of the case on the Department of Justice website says "Microsoft engaged in a campaign to eliminate the potential threat from the Netscape Navigator web browser by placing restrictions on OEMs, integrating Internet Explorer into Windows in a manner that did not permit users or the OEMs to remove access, and engaging in restrictive and exclusionary practices with respect to Internet Access Providers, ISVs, and Apple." Microsoft's anticompetitive activities also affected Sun's Java technologies.

Internet Explorer, by the way, achieved market share of about 95% around the time of the settlement, higher than Google's share of the search market. Google has somewhere between 66% and 90%, depending on who is counting. It's also pretty easy to switch from one search engine to another, a fact Google has consistently trumpeted.

Microsoft acknowledges the irony in its complaint against Google. And while Microsoft routinely files patent lawsuits, the company says this is the first time it has issued an antitrust complaint. "Having spent more than a decade wearing the shoe on the other foot with the European Commission, the filing of a formal antitrust complaint is not something we take lightly. This is the first time Microsoft Corporation has ever taken this step," Smith writes. "More so than most, we recognize the importance of ensuring that competition laws remain balanced and that technology innovation moves forward."

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