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How Dubya can spring MS from the DoJ rap

The bad stuff goes on appeal, then they cut a painless deal, we reckon

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America having now decided (sort of), a decision on the Microsoft matter now looms for President-elect Bush. According to yesterday's New York Times Dubya is tilting in the direction of easing up on Bill and his merry men, but we don't think this is the sound of the other shoe dropping we've been expecting for a while now.

The NYT cites Bush's campaign pronouncement that he favoured "innovation, not litigation," and public comments by attorney-general designate Senator John Ashcroft that suggest he's by no means with the Department of Justice all the way on this. But it's thin stuff so far, and the incoming administration remains poised delicately.

If Bush does, as seems to be the case, think Microsoft should be let off, he still can't pull the plugs on the entire antitrust case without causing an outcry at home and in Europe. He and Ashcroft can certainly take any forthcoming opportunity to let the action die - say, if Microsoft wins, or partially wins - the appeal, and that's probably the best Microsoft can hope for right now.

Possibly the most significant aspect of the NYT story, however, is that "Bush aides" seem to have been spinning. Without Dubya's lips having to move (which we hear is sometimes advantageous for the lad), they suggest he wouldn't have started the action in the first place, that he would have been readier to settle, and that he wouldn't have demanded such stringent conditions from a settlement.

Senior staff at the DoJ will undergo virtually a complete refresh with the new administration, Joel Klein is gone already, so it wouldn't be entirely unexpected for the new regime to go back to the negotiating table and offer Microsoft a deal on easier terms. But first, most of those nasty remedies Judge Jackson imposed have got to go out of the window, which means Microsoft has a lot riding on fighting a good appeal. ®

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