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MS guilty verdict looms as mediation talks collapse

Judge pushes button, other judge fingers trigger

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MS on Trial The Microsoft antitrust case mediation talks collapsed unexpectedly last night, with official mediator Judge Richard Posner saying in a statement that his efforts have proved fruitless, and that the differences between the two camps "were too deep-seated to be bridged." So unless the judge is playing DEFCON poker, it's back over to Judge Jackson, whose findings of law were ready to roll last Tuesday, but who stayed his hand at Posner's request because he thought a negotiated settlement was still possible. At that time Microsoft had put a number of interesting sounding proposals on the table, but the government side felt that there were too many loopholes, and that it wasn't clear how the restrictions Microsoft was willing to accept would be policed. In addition, although the DoJ and Microsoft might have been able to agree, the US states attorneys general in the government camp present huge difficulties for a settlement. Many of them are hawks, pushing for break-up, and a lot of them haven't been keeping up to speed on developments. As Judge Jackson had only backed off for ten days, getting this little lot to all face the one way was always going to be hard. Posner's announcement is nevertheless something of a shock. Did he pull the trigger of his own accord, or did it happen in response to a 'take it or leave it, no surrender' Microsoft gambit? Maybe it was Bill who pulled the trigger - again. Microsoft must now brace itself for the opening of the markets tomorrow. It's not yet clear whether or not Judge Jackson will still wait until the end of the week before issuing his judgement, but it seems unlikely that this would serve any purpose, so long as the talks are finally and iretrievably dead. Letting fly on Monday would actually be a kindness for Microsoft, given the kind of week the company would have otherwise, and if he's prepared to work Sundays (some of us, thank you Richard Posner, have no choice), he could even do it now. Microsoft itself thinks he'll rule sooner rather than later. But we're now moving back into the spin wars. Microsoft's proposal had been presented by the company as consisting of major concessions, and Steve Ballmer's "leaked" email last week spun this up further. Bill Gates last night said the government was at fault over the breakdown of talks, as it "would not agree to a fair and reasonable settlement." He also said the states and DoJ weren't working together, and although we don't usually agree with Bill, he surely has a point here. ® Related stories: Judge attacks 'leaking and spinning' in MS deal talks Ballmer plays to gallery with message to MS troops MS trial: there ain't going to be a hanging - yet Special announcement: Yes folks, we finally update the trial coverage index. Here it is: Complete Register Trial coverage

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