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The European Commission antitrust case against Microsoft may be heading for a quiet settlement. The next stage in the case was to have been a hearing in late December, but Microsoft has decided it doesn't want one. Is it possible that The Beast has learned from the US case that the more it says, the worse it looks?

But more likely the move reflects a shift in strategy now the US matter seems largely done and dusted. At the height of the trial it made sense for Microsoft to spin things out, and the threat of several more years of legal wrangling was used to good effect to get the Department of Justice to settle on terms favourable to Microsoft. But that was then, this is now, and anyway, the European antitrust process doesn't have much scope for delaying tactics.

It now makes sense from Microsoft's point of view to get the action tied up, one way or the other. Given that the US settlement doesn't exactly chain Redmond to a rock, the company probably feels it can put up with Europe being a little bit tougher. And although the Commission's statement of objections sounded pretty damning, the actual sentence may turn out to be less so. If it's just money and a few undertakings, Redmond can cope with that.

The Commission has now received Microsoft's response to its statement of objections, and so long as there isn't a hearing (Sun, the original complainant, has a right to one) then it will be able to move straight on to a decision. The Microsoft document includes reports from various experts, some of whom we've no doubt heard from several times alreadfy, and testimony from 46 Microsoft customers saying interoperability with non-Microsoft operating systems isn't a problem.

We're sure there must be at least 46 people in the world who believe this, but as the Commission previously accused Microsoft of making up numbers of supporters' letters it's likely the lucky 46 are going to be asked for ID. ®

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