Swear to God, Your Honor, We Once Heard Ballmer Say Something About 'Cutting Off Google Desktop's Air Supply'
In an interview conducted in the aftermath of his landmark antitrust ruling against Microsoft in 2000, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson justified his blistering final order mandating the breakup of Microsoft in this way: “Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus”–untrue in one thing, untrue in everything. His point: “conduct remedies” could not be counted on to stop Microsoft from breaking antitrust laws; only the more radical “structural remedy” of a breakup could work.
Jackson’s preferred plan for enforcement never was implemented. But his warning is worth noting today in light of Google’s claims that the company’s Windows Vista operating system violates the settlement that ultimately resolved the government’s antitrust case against Microsoft in 2002. It seems Google is the author of a once-confidential antitrust complaint that alleges Vista’s search feature undermines competing desktop search programs. Microsoft’s “current approach with Vista desktop search violates the consent decree and limits consumer choice,” Google spokesman Ricardo Reyes told the Seattle Post Intelligencer. “The search boxes built throughout Vista are hardwired to Microsoft’s own desktop search product, with no way for users to choose an alternate provider from these visible search access points. Likewise, Vista makes it impractical to turn off Microsoft’s search index.”
An ugly allegation and one that would certainly be cause for concern if it weren’t so … questionable. Microsoft’s desktop-search software can be disabled–in a number of ways. In fact, Google could probably turn it off as part of the Google Desktop Search installation process if it chose to. The Justice Department’s top antitrust official surely noted that in his recent memo to state prosecutors urging them to reject Google’s complaint. Of course, he was once vice chairman of the antitrust department of a law firm that represents Microsoft. Neat little coincidence, that–eh?
So what’s really going on here? Competition by litigation, my friends. Competition by litigation.