Will Microsoft's stock decline influence judge's punishment?

During the Microsoft antitrust trial, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson kept track of current events, sometimes asking questions about the latest headlines. For instance, when America Online bought Netscape Communications, Jackson immediately asked about it in court.

Now some observers and analysts are asking whether Microsoft's stock decline since the ruling may influence or mitigate the judge's choice of remedy.

The judge may be influenced by Microsoft's stock market decline since the April 3 ruling against the company, said one person close to the case. On March 31, the company's stock was selling at about $US106 per share; it dropped to about $US90 per share the day of the ruling and has been down since then, along with many other tech stocks.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) and 19 US states had until last Friday to announce how they propose to punish Microsoft under a schedule set for the "remedy phase" of the antitrust case which District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson set. But details of the proposal surfaced before Computerworld's press time, as a result of leaks to various media by unidentified sources. Under the proposal, the Office package of business productivity software, including Word and Excel, would be spun off into a separate business, and Microsoft would be subject to restrictions on its conduct until the divestiture, a story in the Wall Street Journal said.

Microsoft would also be forced to split off the Windows operating system business from the rest of the company, unidentified people who are familiar with the proposal told the Journal and the Washington Post. The operating system company would be permitted to include browser software, but the Office business would also have rights to Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser, the reports said.

The proposal might also recommend a third company that would get the browser and the Microsoft Network (MSN), Microsoft's ISP (Internet service provider) and Web portal, the Post said. However, the Wall Street Journal quoted sources as saying the government is unlikely to recommend a breakup into three entities.

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