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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 19:09 GMT
Microsoft presses for settlement
Bill Gates with Microsoft Windows
The case has cost millions of dollars
Lawyers for the US Justice Department and giant software maker Microsoft have urged a district court judge to accept the proposed settlement in the long-running anti-trust case.

The judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, of the District of Columbia, heard arguments for and against an out of court settlement, known as a consent decree.

A settlement would bring to a close the four-year legal battle between the United States Government and Microsoft.

The deal was worked out between Microsoft and the US Justice Department last November - and then revised last month - in order to end their dispute over the software company's anti-competitive behaviour.

Best terms available?

The settlement terms "go way beyond those that we would likely have obtained had we litigated", said Philip Beck, attorney for the Justice Department.

IBM notebook
Under new rules users would be given a choice of software
Microsoft lawyer John Warden said criticism of the deal came from those who seek "a grab bag of personal advantages for Microsoft competitors."

The judge is now expected to take some time to consider her response, which may not be released for several weeks.

She holds the powers to demand changes to the settlement.

Explorer in the spotlight

Legal argument at Wednesday's hearing focused on the adequacy of provisions to prevent Microsoft imposing its internet services on PC users, as Ms Kollar-Kotelly queried details of the deal.

Under the settlement PC manufacturers would be able to remove icons for Microsoft "middleware" - such as the web browser Internet Explorer and the instant messaging programme.

Opponents of the settlement say this does not go far enough and is full of loopholes.

Nine states are separately pressing for tougher remedies to be imposed on Microsoft in order to break up its market dominance.

Their case may come back to court as soon as next week, although Microsoft has sought a two-week delay to the 11 March hearing.

Lengthy dispute

The case has dragged on for years. It has dominated the business headlines, cost the government millions of dollars and enriched some of the country's most pre-eminent lawyers.

Just how much longer it goes on rests in the hands of Ms Kollar-Kotelly.

Her decide rests in whether the out of court settlement between Microsoft and the government is in the public interest.

The general public has already had its say, sending 32,000 messages to the government.

Microsoft was found guilty last June of using illegal tactics to hold on to a monopoly - its famous Windows operating system, is installed on 95% of the world's personal computers.

Consumer choice

Under the legal settlement, Microsoft pledged to change its ways. For the consumer, the biggest difference would be in the screen that appears when a computer is first switched on.

The settlement would restore the likelihood of choice between Microsoft products, such as the Internet Explorer Browser, and those offered by other companies.

Legal experts say Ms Kollar-Kotelly is unlikely to reject the settlement, but she could demand changes.

And even if she does approve the deal, parallel legal proceedings pushing for tougher sanctions against Microsoft will almost certainly continue.


The settlement

Appeal court ruling

Appeal hearing

Analysis
See also:

07 Mar 02 | Business
04 Mar 02 | Business
28 Feb 02 | Business
03 Nov 01 | Business
02 Nov 01 | Business
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