By Peter Kaplan
U.S. antitrust authorities on Friday 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.
The Justice Department 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."
The comments by the Justice Department were part of a report filed with U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the judge overseeing Microsoft's compliance with its landmark 2002 antitrust settlement with the government.
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 on 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 anticompetitive, 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.
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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