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Microsoft Antitrust Oversight Extended Through January

Attorneys in 17 states are trying to extend the antitrust settlement out to 2012, citing the continuing ubiquity of Microsoft products.

A federal judge has extended until the end of January the period in which Microsoft must comply with most terms of an antitrust settlement it reached with the U.S. government in 2002.

The settlement's terms had largely been slated to expire next month.

In a ruling Tuesday, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly agreed with Microsoft and attorneys from 17 states that more time is needed to deal with the states' argument that the settlement should be extended through 2012.

In a statement, a Microsoft spokesman called Tuesday's ruling strictly "procedural" in nature.

The settlement originally called for Microsoft to, among other things, ensure that its products are interoperable with those of competitors.

The states, including California and New York, maintain that the settlement should be extended for five more years because Microsoft remains in a position to dominate the software industry -- given the ubiquity of products like Windows and Internet Explorer.

For its part, Microsoft argues that it now faces a slew of competition from Web-based competitors like Google and Yahoo that weren't significant industry players when the settlement first took effect.

Google, in particular, has recently introduced a number of online products designed to compete with Microsoft's desktop-based offerings. For instance, its Google Apps package includes word processing and spreadsheet tools meant to challenge Microsoft Word and Excel.

The states are arguing that the majority of consumers still use Internet Explorer to access such tools, a fact that leaves Microsoft in a position to sabotage Web-based competitors if it so chooses.

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