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Silence reigns as MS mediation talks begin

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Microsoft antitrust case mediator Judge Richard Posner held an exploratory meeting in Chicago yesterday, but although the intended 'secret' location was tracked by the press, nothing about the proceedings seems to have leaked out yet. This apparent absence of spin could in itself be a good sign for a settlement. Posner has been recruited in order to explore the possibility of a negotiated settlement between Microsoft, the DoJ and the states before trial judge Thomas Penfield Jackson moves on to the next phase of the case (when the baseball bat will come out). Considering that the public positions of the two sides are virtually diametrically opposite, he's quite possibly on a hiding to nothing here, but it's just possible Microsoft may now be ready to deal. Previous scenes in the case have tended to be punctuated by a source close to Microsoft's legal team (company counsel Bill Neukom, inevitably) spinning furiously, the objective being to try to win the propaganda war, even if the legal one is going south. We can't make a firm judgement on the basis of just the one two hour exploratory meeting, but if silence continues to reign this can probably be viewed as a signal that Microsoft thinks it can get something constructive out of the talks. That still leaves a hill to climb, as what Microsoft and the opposition think are likely to be two separate things. The DoJ has been burned by talks with Microsoft once, over the consent decree. Then, Microsoft contrived an agreed wording that really did give it carte blanche to integrate anything it cared to into the OS. The DoJ won't want to get swindled like this again, but Microsoft being Microsoft, the methodology employed then - attorneys at the conference table, Bill Gates screaming on the phone to over-rule them - is likely to show up once more. ®

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