Microsoft ( MSFT) plans to make it easier for Google ( GOOG) and other software developers to become the default search engine on computers running new versions of Windows.

"If a manufacturer wants to set competing search services ... by default, they can do so," Brad Smith, the company's top lawyer, said in a speech at the New America Foundation, a Washington public policy institute, according to a Reuters report.

Smith said the software giant is adopting voluntary principles to guide development of Windows and is committed to creating a system that allows open competition among software developers and PC makers.

Microsoft, of course, has frequently been at odds with regulators in the U.S. and Europe, who say the company has abused its monopoly over desktop operating systems. Most recently, the European Commission imposed a $357 million fine against the company for not complying with its antitrust orders.

Allowing Google and others to occupy a default position on a user's desktop is obviously aimed at forestalling claims that Microsoft is once again playing the bully by adding search capabilities to Vista, now scheduled for general availability in early 2007.