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Wake up! Wake up! The Microsoft anti-trust case is starting up again after a six-month hibernation. Here's the story so far: District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson listened to unfeasibly large amounts of evidence from October 1998 to June 2000 with a few breaks in between.

He laid down the facts of the case in November 1999 and they appeared to point to a stroppy, arrogant and ruthless Microsoft organisation (unbelievable, we know). Then in April 2000, Thomas releases his conclusions and Microsoft comes out of it looking even worse. Finally, he could bear it no more and said on 7 June that M$ should be split into two separate companies - one an OS company and the other an apps company.

Of course, Microsoft says it will appeal against the decision and that's where we're up to. Starting on 12 January (Friday), the Department of Justice will dish out its brief and Microsoft will respond to this on 29 January. Then, finally finally (we think) there will be two days of argument in late February at the Court of Appeals and then maybe we can start splitting up the allegedly monopolistic company.

Of course, things are never this simple (?!) when it comes to Microsoft or the US legal system. Yes, the name of the lawyers involved have been named. Out goes William Neukom for Microsoft and in comes Richard Urowsky (a Court of Appeals veteran) and the DoJ pushes Jeffrey Minear and David Frederick forward. Ole David Boies has been booked for another bit of Microsoft bashing in February.

But then Judge Jackson has gone a bit mental and started slagging off Billy Boy and all his little followers in the press, while bigging up the DoJ. M$ has started screaming partiality but it won't do it any good. Still it makes for good copy.

Napoleonic

In The New Yorker just this week, Jackson compares Gates to Napoleon and said that M$ execs act like kids. "I think he has a Napoleonic concept of himself and his company, an arrogance that derives from power and unalloyed success, with no leavening hard experience, no reverses."

Penfield doesn't stop there either. No, MS' main lawyer William Neukom, is "not very smart, or at least I don't think he has any subtlety." Whereas David Boies is the best lawyer that has ever appeared in his courtroom. Do you get the feeling that he isn't that keen on Microsoft?

There's a lot going on behind the scenes here. Does Judge Jackson's outburst having anything to do with the new administration that is coming into force? Who was it that won again? Oh yeah, George W Bush - who has criticised anti-trust hounding in the past and who has been courted by all the big businesses that Clinton wasn't so keen on.

Um, one example, at the Republican Convention in August, it was publicly stated Bush's boys would have "greater sensitivity" to "respecting the private sector and respecting the need for innovation and profitability long-term." And the word "Microsoft" was mentioned in the same breath.

It's an open secret that the government wanted the lengthy case tidied up and put away and talks with Microsoft nearly reached agreement. But then to the charge came the 19 state attorneys general. They were having none of it and scrapped the deal. Microsoft's last effort to avoid court has come in the Bush people but pre-empting any wishy-washy stuff from the Justice Department, the 19 states have again stood up to be counted and insisted (today) that even if Bush pulls away from the situation they will continue to fight.

There are various political escape routes open to Bush but there are pretty much last resorts and he will (or should) be unwilling to use them so early on in a presidency won by the skin of his teeth.

Oh dear, this does not look so good for Microsoft, after all. ®

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