Microsoft faces antitrust extension
Law enforcement officials ask court to extend antitrust deal through 2009, but say Internet Explorer 7 not a threat to Google.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Department of Justice told a federal judge Friday it needs to extend the term under which it is monitoring Microsoft's adherence to a 2002 antitrust settlement, but also dismissed concerns that the company's new Web browser would give it an unfair advantage over Google Inc.

The government's antitrust lawyers cited what it called "Microsoft's difficulty" in providing information which it is required to give to competitors.

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The government monitoring was scheduled to expire in the fall of 2007 but will last at least through the fall of 2009 if the court approves the extension sought by antitrust enforcers.

"An extension is necessary due to Microsoft's difficulty in improving the technical documentation it provides to licensees," the Justice Department said.

The Justice Department, in consultation with 17 States and the District of Columbia, enforces the historic settlement. The government said Microsoft (Research) joined in the filing of the request with Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in U.S. District Court in Washington.

"Microsoft has agreed to a two year extension ... along with all of the final judgment's enforcement provisions," the Justice Department announced.

In that same filing, the Justice Department rejected concerns that a search feature in the new version of Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer browser would give the company an unfair advantage over Google Inc. (Research)

Regulators said it had investigated and found no basis for concerns that a new search box included in the Internet Explorer 7 browser would give an unfair advantage to Microsoft's MSN search service.

The department said the new Internet search box in Microsoft's browser "respects users' and (computer makers') default choices." It said government officials had "concluded their work on this matter."

Google, the world's most popular Web search provider, had expressed concerns about the new Microsoft browser, according to a May 1 article in the New York Times.

The article quoted a Google vice president saying the search box was unfairly set to default to MSN's search service. "We don't think it's right for Microsoft to just set the default to MSN. We believe users should choose," Google's Marissa Mayer said.

Internet Explorer is the dominant browser on the Internet. Google likened the new search box to the conduct that provoked the government's earlier antitrust suit against Microsoft, according to the Times article.

In the antitrust case, Microsoft was accused of using its Windows operating system monopoly to crush the rival Netscape Internet browser.

Representatives of Google were not immediately available for comment Friday.

Similar concerns have been expressed by the European Commission, which has questioned the way Microsoft's upcoming new operating system, known as Vista, may package Internet search functions.

In its filing, the Justice Department said it concluded the new search box in Internet Explorer was not anti-competitive, even though it would default to MSN in some instances.

It based that conclusion on the fact that the default could be easily changed by computer users. On new PCs, the department said, computer manufacturers can set the default to other search engines, including Google or Yahoo Inc. (Research)

--from staff and wire reports


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