MS/DOJ - Reports: Judge's Conclusions of Law May Be Delayed

The judge in the Microsoft antitrust case is likely to delay issuing his conclusions of law, previously expected tomorrow, to allow the software maker and the U.S. government more time to reach a settlement, according to a number of media reports circulating yesterday.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson had set today as the deadline for the parties concerned -- Microsoft, the U.S. Department of Justice and 19 U.S. states -- to reach a settlement and for the issuing of his conclusions of law in the case. The two sides have yet to agree on a settlement. If a settlement is reached, it would bring the curtain down on the case.

Media reports over the weekend suggested that the U.S. government had already rejected out of hand Microsoft's 10-page settlement offer made late Friday as not going far enough in its scope. However, a report on today's Associated Press newswire suggested that the U.S. government may still be amenable to Microsoft's settlement offer, possibly resulting in renewed settlement talks. There might be no further developments in the case until 10 days' time, according to some unnamed sources mentioned in yesterday's AP report.

A Dow Jones report today suggested that Microsoft might modify its deal to go further towards satisfying the U.S. government's lawyers. Among the initial proposals in the software maker's settlement agreement reportedly were undertakings to alter Microsoft's business practices -- effectively getting rid of preferred pricing for some partners -- and open up the company's Windows operating system source code to third-party vendors.

In its settlement offer, Microsoft also reportedly offered to allow companies to ship Windows without its Web browser Internet Explorer (IE). The tying of IE to Windows lies at the heart of the U.S. government's case against the software vendor, representing what the government lawyers allege is an abuse of Microsoft's monopoly which effectively allowed the company to control the Net browser market to the detriment of competitors such as Netscape Communications (now part of America Online).

Judge Jackson's findings of fact in the case released in November of last year went a long way towards supporting the U.S. government's case that Microsoft has abused its monopoly position in the desktop operating systems market. However, Jackson's findings at that time didn't rule on whether the software vendor had violated antitrust law, another one of the government's contentions. Once the judge's conclusions of law are issued, the stage will then be set to consider remedies for the case which could potentially involve the breakup of the software giant -- a move Microsoft vehemently opposes.

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