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Microsoft's Fate Could Be Decided Friday

The judge weighing a settlement in the Microsoft antitrust case is expected to issue her ruling.

Friday is more than the cap on another long week for Microsoft. It's when the federal judge overseeing the software vendor's antitrust trial is expected to deliver her ruling on the case. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly will decide whether to approve a controversial settlement between Microsoft and the Justice Department. The ruling is expected after the stock market closes at 4 p.m. EST.

Court officials said late Thursday that Kollar-Kotelly will announce her "opinions" Friday, suggesting that she'll also say whether she endorses the harsher penalties against Microsoft sought by nine state attorneys general who are dissatisfied with the Justice Department's settlement.

Microsoft was found to have illegally maintained a monopoly over operating systems. Most of the improper actions were used against Netscape, now a part of AOL Time Warner, and Sun Microsystems. An appeals court in June 2001 upheld trial-court findings that Microsoft had illegally maintained its Windows monopoly in operating systems.

Microsoft reached a settlement with the Justice Department in November. But nine states, including California, Iowa, and Connecticut, say the deal is inadequate and have asked the judge for tougher restrictions.

The proposed settlement with the Justice Department would prevent Microsoft from participating in exclusive deals that could hurt competitors, mandate uniform software-licensing terms between Microsoft and computer makers, allow manufacturers and customers to remove desktop icons for some Microsoft features, and require the company to release some technical data so software developers can write programs that work as well with the Windows operating system as do Microsoft's own products.

Uniform contracts went into effect soon after the terms of the deal were reached, although many computer makers have complained that the contracts were stricter than those written before the settlement.

Under federal antitrust rules, Kollar-Kotelly does not have authority to change the terms of the settlement between Microsoft and the Justice Department. She can approve the deal or reject it, although she can offer suggestions to lawyers to change the proposal in ways that would win her ultimate approval.

Kollar-Kotelly replaced the original judge in the case, Thomas Penfield Jackson, who ordered Microsoft broken into two companies after a lengthy trial. The appeals court upheld many of the violations but reversed the break-up order and appointed Kollar-Kotelly to determine a new punishment.

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