The U.S. judge overseeing Microsoft's antitrust compliance has ruled Google may file a brief complaining Redmond hasn't done enough to provide an unbiased selection of desktop search products in Windows Vista.
Whether the action bodes well for Google or will influence Microsoft's fate in the antitrust oversight process, however, is up for debate.
Here's a little history: Google had submitted a proposed brief on the eve of a court hearing with Microsoft and antitrust prosecutors earlier this summer. But at the hearing that followed, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said she wasn't sure whether she would accept it as part of the court record. She also said she trusted the judgment of federal and state prosecutors who had vouched for Microsoft's proposed solution to Google's gripes about the desktop search function and said she expected them to flag any problems.
Microsoft and the government have maintained that a number of proposed changes, expected to be available in the first Vista service pack, will address any antitrust concerns previously raised by Google.
In her three-page order filed Tuesday, Kollar-Kotelly was quick to reiterate that she has "no basis on which to conclude that the resolution of the Google complaint agreed upon by the parties is not an appropriate resolution."
She added that she would "nevertheless" grant Google's request to participate in the case--albeit to the extent that its concerns were already discussed in court. Whether she will take into consideration Google's specific requests--namely, to extend the expiring portions of a 2002 settlement with the Bush administration to allow additional oversight--isn't clear. At the late-June court hearing, Kollar-Kotelly said she didn't plan to take any position on the substance of Google's brief, and she gave no indication in Tuesday's order that she had changed her mind.
All of that added up to good news in Microsoft's eyes. "We're pleased that the court reaffirmed that the resolution we reached with the plaintiffs was appropriate and rejected Google's request for an extension of the consent decree," spokesman Jack Evans said in a statement.
The issue of Google's participation in the case may arise again on September 11, which is Microsoft's next scheduled court appearance before Kollar-Kotelly.
Update at 12:25 p.m. PDT: A Google spokesman downplayed the significance of Kollar-Kotelly's move, which he said is largely procedural. He declined to comment on whether Google plans to make additional filings in the case.