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Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 07:16 GMT
Inside the Microsoft courtroom
US appeal court members
Five of seven judges had Microsoft laptops
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

Before the appeals court hearing in the Microsoft anti-trust trial began, one of the judges sat as two puzzled-looking staff members tried to troubleshoot his laptop.

A tech journalist nearby asked: "I wonder which version of Windows he's running."

You can definitely see agendas on the panel

Anti-trust expert William Kovacic
Indeed, although journalists were barred from using laptops or even handheld computers in the courtroom, five of the seven judges hearing the appeal had laptops with them at the bench.

A line of court staff flanked the bench each with a laptop, all running some version of Microsoft Windows.

It is a sign of exactly how pervasive computers have become in daily life, and it is a reminder of the importance of the Microsoft case.

Legal eagles

Microsoft has its allies and detractors, but its place in the modern economy is undeniable. Its operating system runs the vast majority of personal computers in the world.

Kenneth Starr
Kenneth Starr: Veteran of Clinton impeachment
And if one still needed convincing about the importance of this case, one had only to cast a look around the courtroom.

Several legal celebrities were there, including anti-trust expert Robert Bork, and Ken Starr, the former special prosecutor who led the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.

Both men helped high-trade tech group ProComp file a brief supporting the US Government's case against Microsoft.

Both are also familiar with the court of appeals in Washington, both having served as judges on the court.

Reading the tea leaves

Once the hearing started, court watchers began taking score as the judges peppered both sides with withering questions.

Thomas Penfield Jackson
Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson: Accused of bias
Anti-trust expert William Kovacic said: "You can definitely see agendas on the panel."

He was most surprised when Chief Judge Harry Edwards stepped out and challenged the basic underpinnings of the government's case.

But the judges are very good at not tipping their hands, Mr Kovacic said.

However, after the morning questioning, he said it was still too early to tell which way the judges might be leaning. They grilled both sides in kind.

Judge David S Tatel repeatedly questioned Microsoft's lawyers about their challenge of Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's findings in the case.

In particular, he said that Judge Jackson had determined that Microsoft did not allow computer makers to delete the Internet Explorer icon from the Windows desktop.

"I don't see how you can get a reversal on that part of your case," Judge Tatel said.

Judging the judge

But some of the judges expressed doubts about Judge Jackson's findings.

"When I find factual findings very conclusionary with no citation, I don't feel obligated to defer to them," Chief Judge Edwards even said in the afternoon session, adding, "they aren't gospel".

The appeals court's focus on Judge Jackson's findings gives a hint at what could be fireworks on Tuesday.

Neither the government nor Microsoft requested time to address Judge Jackson's courtroom conduct and the statements he made after the trial, but the appeals court scheduled time to discuss these issues on the second day of hearings.

Judge Jackson has made several controversial comments following the trial that Microsoft has quoted as an example of the judge's alleged bias against the company.

Ken Auletta quoted Judge Jackson in the New Yorker as saying that Bill Gates had a "Napoleonic complex".

Mr Kovacic said that this comment and others could become a factor in the case.

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