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Microsoft chief says unfair practices by Google led to search engine dominance

Satya Nadella gave evidence in a Washington DC courtroom as part of the government’s landmark antitrust trial against Google’s parent company.

Satya Nadella

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella has said unfair tactics used by Google led to its dominance as a search engine and in turn thwarted his own company’s rival programme, Bing.

He gave evidence in a packed Washington DC courtroom as part of the government’s landmark antitrust trial against Google’s parent company Alphabet.

The Justice Department alleges Google has abused the dominance of its ubiquitous search engine to throttle competition and innovation at the expense of consumers, echoing a similar case brought against Microsoft in the late 1990s.

Mr Nadella said Google’s dominance was due to agreements that made it the default browser on smartphones and computers. He downplayed the idea that artificial intelligence or more niche search engines like Amazon or social media sites have meaningfully changed the market in which Microsoft competes with Google.

He said users fundamentally do not have much choice in opting out of default web browsers on phones and computers.

“We are one of the alternatives but we’re not the default,” he said.

Mr Nadella was called to the witness stand as the biggest US antitrust trial in the past quarter of a century moved into its fourth week of evidence before US District Judge Amit Mehta, who is not expected to issue a decision in the case until next year.

The Justice Department’s antitrust case against Google centres on deals the company struck with Apple and other device makers to use Google’s search engine.

In the 1990s, Microsoft faced accusations it set up its Windows software in ways that walled off applications made by other tech companies, just as Google is now facing accusations of shelling out billions of dollars each year to lock in its search engine as the go-to place for finding online information on smartphones and web browsers.

In an ironic twist, the constraints and distractions posed by the government’s antitrust case against Microsoft helped provide a springboard for Google to turn its search engine into a dominant force.

By the time Microsoft started its scramble to develop its own search engine, Google had already become synonymous with looking things up on the internet.

But Microsoft has spent billions of dollars trying to mount a serious challenge to Google with Bing and, at one point, even tried to buy Yahoo for more than 40 billion dollars in a bid that was rejected while Steve Ballmer was still the software maker’s chief executive.

Mr Nadella, who was working at Microsoft during the late 1990s antitrust showdown with the Justice Department, succeeded Ballmer as chief executive in 2014.

During his tenure, he has steered Microsoft to huge gains in personal and cloud computing that have boosted the company’s stock price nearly nine-fold since he took over while creating more than two trillion dollars in shareholder wealth.

Despite all that success, he has not been able to make any significant inroads against Google in the search market, with Bing still a distant second.

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