Regulators from the European Union (EU) this week revealed that they have permitted online giant Google to join the European Commission (EC) Web browser antitrust investigation against Microsoft. Google has been granted "interested third party" status, meaning that it can voice an opinion about potential remedies, should Microsoft be found to have illegally tied Internet Explorer (IE) to Windows.

"Google believes that the browser market is still largely uncompetitive, which holds back innovation for users," said Google vice president Sundar Pichai. "This is because Internet Explorer is tied to Microsoft's dominant computer operating system, giving it an unfair advantage over other browsers."

The EC began its investigation into Windows/IE bundling after a complaint from browser maker Opera in January 2008, in the wake of a wider antitrust investigation against Microsoft. Another browser maker, Mozilla, joined the case last month as well. This leaves Apple as the only browser maker not currently aligned with the EU against Microsoft.

Of course, what the EU will have to address is that Microsoft's bundled browser has been steadily losing market share since it started its investigation. It has fallen from 80 percent of the market less than two years ago to 68 percent in January 2009. The biggest benefactors of this fall, of course, are Microsoft's browser competitors. Mozilla's Firefox, for example, now controls about 20 percent of the market.

Microsoft had no comment about Google's decision to join the case, but then the two companies are familiar foes, both in the marketplace and in court. Last year, Microsoft's backroom complaining prompted the US government to prevent a Google advertising linkup with Yahoo!. Since then, Microsoft has worked steadily to reach its own deal with Yahoo! or perhaps purchase Yahoo!'s Internet search business.