Vista SP1 to Remove 'Search-MS' as Default Protocol

In a Knowledgebase advisory to developers today, Microsoft is urging developers for Windows Vista who intend for their programs to run under Service Pack 1 not to assume the default search protocol being used by the system is Microsoft's. This after over a year in which Microsoft spokespersons have maintained, under a rain of criticism from search competitor Google, that Vista's and Internet Explorer 7's search facilities were already manufacturer-agnostic.

"If you develop an application that is meant to use or meant to build upon a specific desktop search application, you should not depend only on the search protocol," reads KB941946, released today. "Because many applications may own the search protocol, you cannot guarantee that the targeted desktop search application owns the search protocol at any time. Instead, use a private search protocol that is defined by the targeted desktop search application."

The article goes on to reassure developers that the search-ms protocol will still be present in Vista, and that Windows Explorer and Windows Search Explorer can still be interacted with by means of this protocol. So it doesn't mean the plugs are all pulled. But users will soon be able to choose the search protocol they want to be associated with a particular program, by means of a utility that will be added to the Control Panel in Vista SP1.

Microsoft took the unusual step of publishing this article today, referring to a build of the operating system that isn't publicly available even in beta form. Vista's openness to competitive search protocols has been a bone of contention with Google, which has recently drawn lawmakers' and regulators' attention to the problem.

This move comes just one month after Microsoft's Windows Search product manager Arvind Mishra published a white paper (XPS available here) that characterizes Windows Search as a pervasive product in Vista that impacts the default search engine in IE7, the File Open dialog boxes in Windows applications, and even how network file managers communicate with Vista remotely. While it clearly positioned Windows Search as a competitive product, as opposed to something customers would be getting with Windows whether they like it or not, it also boldly stated that one of its key advantages over alternatives customers may be considering was its very, very close ties to the operating system.

"The performance benefit of having the search tool be a platform-level component cannot be overstated," Mishra wrote. "First, the index is very close to the file system, which means it receives notification of data changes faster than previous versions of the Windows Search technology, like that in Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Now, with WDS 3.01 and Windows Vista, users can expect fast, accurate and up-to-date results every time they search. Another problem with the older Windows Search offerings was overall index performance. The index was not up-to-date and was frequently not used during searches. It would often force users to endure lengthy crawl-based searches of the PC. With WDS 3.01 and Windows Vista, an enormous amount of work has gone into index performance - so much so that the service drives all basic navigation and views in Windows Vista."

In a sidebar, Mishra advised customers considering an investment in a document management system to ask the vendor whether it's designed to integrate with Windows Search.

Today's revelation from Microsoft's Knowledgebase indicates that while customers may be told Windows Search's close relationship with Windows and Office may be its key advantage, it can no longer hold onto that advantage in the face of very close scrutiny from lawmakers. It should not come as a coincidence that the European Court of First Instance's decision on Microsoft's competitive conduct on that continent over the past few years, is scheduled to be handed down on Monday.

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