Judgement day: will the judge string MS up?

A stay of execution, pending desperate settlement offers, seems more likely

Despite the government's cool reaction to Microsoft offer to settle the antitrust case last week, the company could yet escape the judge's verdict, which is due to be issued today. Although settlement talks didn't restart on Monday, mediator Judge Richard Posner was in contact with both sides, and Microsoft has been clarifying its proposals. These, as we noted yesterday, are pretty sweeping by Microsoft's standards, but it seems the government thinks they're hedged with too many qualifiers and restrictions. So although it might sound like Microsoft is willing to introduce open, standard pricing for PC companies and let them do as they wish with the desktop, user interface, browser et al, it's possible the proposals don't actually read like that at all. Microsoft only has itself to blame if this is what the DoJ and the States think, because last time around, when the DoJ and MS negotiated the consent decree, this was precisely how it came out. The DoJ thought it had got a lid on Microsoft's activities, but Microsoft was later able to point to the wording and claim it specifically said it had the right to integrate whatever it liked into the OS. And of course the fatal wording was inserted at Bill Gates' behest. But today, Microsoft's proposal may be pointed sufficiently in the right direction for it to achieve a stay of execution while the clarification process continues. The big questions are how clear it's going to have to be, and how far it will have to go. Microsoft's choices at the moment are stark - if it doesn't deal now, then Judge Jackson's findings of law will be issued, and although the company will undoubtedly appeal, this will boost a host of private antitrust actions. But if it is going to deal, it'll have to come up with major concessions - as it's already offered some source access to PC companies, we could perhaps see this widening towards full-scale access, and widespread licensing. ® Related stories: MS offers free OEMs, disintegrated Windows to escape noose

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