An Antitrust Time Line

SAN FRANCISCO (04/04/2000) - Microsoft Corp.'s court troubles began in 1991, when the U.S. Federal Trade Commission began investigating the company's alleged anticompetitive practices. Here's a blow-by-blow account of the saga so far.

February 1993: FTC commissioners deadlock over whether to pursue the investigations.

May 1993: Microsoft launches Windows NT.

July 1993: FTC commissioners meet to discuss the investigation; another deadlock results.

August 1993: The Department of Justice Antitrust Division picks up the investigation.

July 1994: Microsoft and the Justice Department sign a consent decree, which stipulates that Microsoft cannot require PC vendors licensing Windows to also license other Microsoft products as part of the contract. Microsoft can, however, continue to develop "integrated products."

September 1994-January 1995: Microsoft and the Justice Department defend the consent decree before District Judge Stanley Sporkin.

October 1994: Microsoft and Intuit agree to merge.

February 1995: Sporkin rejects the consent decree. Both the Justice Department and Microsoft appeal.

May 1995: Microsoft abandons plans for the Intuit acquisition.

June 1995: An appeals court upholds the consent decree and removes Sporkin from the case for judicial errors and a personal bias against Microsoft. Microsoft confirms the Justice Department is investigating the company's plans to bundle the Microsoft Network with Windows 95.

Browser Bundling

August 1995: Windows 95 launches. Microsoft announces record sales in the product's first week. Company formally unveils the Microsoft Network.

November 1995: The final version of Internet Explorer 2.0 releases.

July 1996: Caldera sues Microsoft for allegedly using illegal practices to destroy Caldera's version of DOS, known as DR-DOS.

August 1996: Netscape Communications asks the Justice Department to act on new evidence that Microsoft may be engaging in anticompetitive actions and coercing vendors, Internet service providers, and companies into favoring Microsoft's browser. Internet Explorer 3.0 releases.

September 1996: The Justice Department opens an investigation into whether Microsoft's practices in selling its browser software violate antitrust laws.

November 1996: Microsoft launches Windows CE.

January 1997: Office 97 releases.

February 1997: Windows 95 release 2 ships with Internet Explorer 3.0.

September 1997: Microsoft releases Internet Explorer 4.0.

October 1997: Sun Microsystems sues Microsoft for allegedly violating its Java licensing agreement.

November 1997: The Texas Attorney General files suit against Microsoft, alleging that the company's nondisclosure agreements interfere with the state's antitrust investigation.

December 1997: The Justice Department looks to stop Microsoft from requiring PC makers who license Windows 95 to also preinstall the Internet Explorer browser.

District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issues a preliminary injunction ordering Microsoft to stop the practice. Saying he is unsure that the practice violates the earlier consent decree, Jackson appoints Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor, as a "special master" to gather information on it and report back to him in May 1998. Microsoft appeals the court order, claiming that the order "irreparably" harms the company.

January 1998: A contempt-of-court hearing opens to determine whether Microsoft violated the 1994 consent decree. Government witnesses demonstrate the ease of uninstalling Internet Explorer from a Windows 95 PC, while Microsoft witnesses attempt to show how difficult the task is. Microsoft asks that Lessig be removed from the case, claiming he is biased. Jackson refuses. Microsoft settles the contempt issue by agreeing to an stand-alone version of Windows 95, but appeals the preliminary injunction.

February 1998: The U.S. Appeals Court suspends Lessig's role. Texas dismisses its suit against Microsoft, but the Justice Department and state attorneys general meet to share information on the case.

The Caldera lawsuit gets new life when a judge lets the company introduce new evidence. Caldera claims that by tying Windows 95 to MS-DOS, Microsoft illegally tried to squelch the competition.

April 1998: Reports surface that in a May 1995 meeting Microsoft allegedly tried to illegally get rival Netscape to agree to market its browser for non-Microsoft operating systems only. Netscape's Marc Andreessen likens the meeting to a session with the fictional title character from Mario Puzo's The Godfather, telling the Wall Street Journal, "It was like a visit by Don Corleone. I expected to find a bloody computer monitor in my bed the next day."

Microsoft terms that version of the meeting "just a crock." Microsoft and the Justice Department face off in appeals court.

The Main Event

May 1998: The U.S. Department of Justice, 20 state attorneys general, and the District of Columbia file antitrust suits against Microsoft, alleging that the company's business practices put a "choke hold" on the software industry. The suits accuse Microsoft of using its operating system dominance to control other markets, notably Internet browsers. The Justice Department seeks to stop the commercial distribution of Windows 98, and wants the Internet Explorer browser to be unbundled from the OS.

Sun files a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction to keep Microsoft from shipping Windows 98, which Sun says contains a Java version incompatible with Sun's version.

The U.S. appeals court rules that Windows 98 is excluded from a December 1997 preliminary injunction barring Microsoft from requiring PC makers to offer Internet Explorer with Windows 95.

Eight days before Windows 98 is due to ship to PC makers, Microsoft asks an appellate court to stay the lower court's December 1997 preliminary injunction until the court clarifies if the ruling applies to Windows 98 or just Windows 95.

June 1998: The appellate court ruling buoys Microsoft by overturning the earlier ruling, allowing the software giant to require PC vendors who license Windows 98 to also license Internet Explorer. The court also rules that the order assigning a special master in the case be revoked or revised.

Windows 98 officially launches.

July 1998: The states and the District of Columbia narrow their suit by dropping claims regarding Microsoft Office and Outlook Express. Microsoft rebuts the antitrust claims, calling them "completely groundless."

Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, the first attorney general to file suit against Microsoft, announces he is dropping out of the investigation after executives at Texas-based computer companies write him with concerns.

Steve Ballmer is appointed president of Microsoft.

The Great Video War

August 1998: The debate over videotaped depositions begins. Judge Jackson rules that the tapes will be made public, but Microsoft appeals and wins. Depositions are taped of key witnesses, including Bill Gates. Gates testifies that he had no knowledge of the 1995 meetings with the rival Netscape. He claims that he didn't learn about the meetings until 1998.

Jackson orders Microsoft to turn over Windows 98 and Windows 95 source code to the Justice Department.

October 1998: The antitrust trial opens. The Justice Department's opening argument focuses on allegations that Microsoft tried to "crush" rival Netscape Communications and tried to coerce other top companies to use the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser.

Internet Explorer surpasses Netscape's Navigator in browser market share.

November 1998: Gates' videotaped testimony is shown in court. His statements denying knowledge of the meetings with Netscape explicitly contradict e-mail messages that he wrote in 1995.

In the legal battle with Sun, the judge bars Microsoft from shipping Java-enabled products that didn't pass Sun's Java compatibility test suite. But the decision also allows Microsoft to design its own, noncompliant Java.

December 1998: South Carolina withdraws from the Justice Department case.

January 1999: The government wraps up its prosecution, and Microsoft begins its defense.

February 1999: Microsoft concludes its defense, and the case goes into recess.

Blue Mountain, an electronic greeting card company, gets an injunction against Microsoft, mandating a change in Outlook so it will stop classifying Blue Mountain cards as junk mail (a development that occurred after the Microsoft Network launched a digital greeting card feature).

March 1999: Internet Explorer 5.0 releases.

May 1999: Pretrial hearings begin in the other antitrust lawsuit: Microsoft and Caldera meet in court.

June 1999: Rebuttal testimony begins.

Office 2000 releases.

Playing Monopoly

November 1999: In his findings of fact, Judge Jackson declares that Microsoft is a monopoly. Jackson appoints Richard Posner, chief judge of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, to serve as mediator between Microsoft and the government. Settlement talks begin soon thereafter.

Microsoft faces a wave of class-action lawsuits in the wake of the findings of fact.

January 2000: Bill Gates steps down as chief executive officer, and announces Steve Ballmer as his replacement. Gates continues as chair and becomes chief software architect. Ballmer retains the title of president.

Microsoft and Caldera settle their lawsuit. Caldera, which originally sought $1.6 billion in damages, receives an undisclosed sum.

In the ongoing legal battle with Sun over Microsoft's use of Java, the judge issues a preliminary injunction restricting the ways that Microsoft can use Java.

In the ongoing legal battle with Sun over Microsoft's use of Java, the judge issues a preliminary injunction restricting the ways that Microsoft can use Java.

Windows 2000 releases.

March 2000: Jackson tells both sides he will issue his judgment unless a settlement is reached by March 28. Microsoft proposes an eleventh-hour settlement deal, which the government rejects. Jackson extends the original deadline to April 7.

April 3, 2000: After the settlement talks collapse, Jackson releases his decision.

(Nancy Weil of IDG News Service contributed to this report.)

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