Microsoft has found an unlikely new partner to help promote Windows XP: Google.

While senior Microsoft executives pit the company against Google in a looming internet search war, the siftware company has begun offering a Google search tool for download from the website.

Google's Deskbar is included in Microsoft's Partner Pack for Windows, a collection of Microsoft and third-party products released last week that Microsoft describes on its website as "the ultimate application package" for a Windows XP PC.

The Deskbar adds a search box to the Windows taskbar, allowing users to search the web via Google without having to start a browser. Other applications in the Partner Pack include Computer Associates International's ETrust EZ Antivirus 2005 and Post-it Software Notes from 3M.

Microsoft's promotion of the Google Deskbar comes as it works to deliver a beta version of its own MSN Search engine and a desktop search application by the end of this year.

"We should see some good MSN search technology in this calendar year, probably late in the second half, and we're going to have a heck of a great race in search between Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. It will be really fun to follow," Microsoft CFO John Connors said last week during the company's quarterly earnings call.

Inclusion of the Google Deskbar in the Windows Partner Pack is an example of how Google can be a partner for Microsoft's large Windows group while at the same time a rival to MSN, a relatively small Microsoft group that in June ended its first profitable year ever, says Joe Wilcox, a Washington, DC-based Jupiter Research senior analyst.

"While the MSN Search folks may be in hot competition with Google, for the Windows platform Google is a valuable partner," Wilcox says.

With Windows XP adoption lagging, Microsoft's biggest challenge at present is promoting Windows XP's capabilities, Wilcox says. "Over the last couple months, Microsoft has stepped up XP evangelism, in part by showing the capability of partner products that extend the operating system's capabilities. The products available with the Partner Pack are consistent with that approach," he says.

Another reason for Microsoft to include the Google Deskbar in the Partner Pack is because it was built using Microsoft technology. "Microsoft is pleased that Google recognised the potential of the Windows platform and the .NET Framework, and chose to use it to enable the delivery of a great search application," a Microsoft spokeswoman said.