Microsoft Corp. said on Wednesday that computer manufacturers will be able to set Google or other non-Microsoft search engines as the default search service in the next version of its flagship Windows operating system.
Brad Smith, Microsoft senior vice president and general counsel, said the software giant is adopting a voluntary set of principles to guide development of its market-dominating operating system in a manner that promotes competition.
He acknowledged that eight of the 12 principles come from the company’s 2002 antitrust settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
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“If a computer manufacturer wants to set a competing search service ... so that service runs by default, they can do so,” Smith said in a speech to the New America Foundation, a Washington public policy institute.
Microsoft’s plan to include a search service to compete with industry leader Google Inc. in the next version of Windows has caused concern that the two companies may engage in the same kind of legal fight as the Microsoft-Netscape browser war in the late 1990s.
Microsoft plans to release the next version of Windows, called Vista, to business customers in November before a wider general release in January.
In addition to allowing manufacturers to set Google and other programs as a default, the new “Windows Principles” include a promise to let computer makers “remove the means by which end users access key Windows features, such as Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player.”
Microsoft also said it would not “retaliate” against computer makers that choose non-Microsoft software and to take other steps to help third party software developers and customers.
U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who describes himself as one of Microsoft’s most vocal critics on antitrust matters, said in a statement he was “encouraged by...the changes they are making to their business model in order to comply with the U.S. consent decree.”
Other Microsoft critics were more skeptical.
Ken Wasch, president of the Software & Information Industry Association, said a key factor for software makers is whether Microsoft will charge computer manufacturers less for Windows if they choose to strip out Microsoft’s Internet browser, media player or other software.
“There is no economic incentive whatsoever for the (non-Microsoft products) to be included by the OEM,” without such price differences, Wasch told Reuters.
Microsoft’s Smith said Vista will be sold to computer makers in five different configurations. He did not offer details how the versions would differ or which Microsoft applications they would include.
“Users are in charge of their own machines,” Smith said. “Microsoft will design and develop and distribute Windows so that computer manufacturers configure it - they get to choose and select the defaults, but users will always be in charge.”
In spite of the goodwill Microsoft is seeking to generate with its new principles, the company continues to battle European antitrust regulators. Earlier this month, the European Commission fined Microsoft nearly $357 million for failing to comply with EU competitiveness requirements.