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The Independent Culture
Windows 98 faces legal challenge

Although Microsoft and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) settled a dispute over the bundling of Windows 95 and Internet Explorer, the software giant's legal problems are far from over. Joel Klein, head of the DOJ's anti-trust division, said the department is still investigating Windows 98 as well as other issues regarding the software company. Microsoft's appeal against the temporary injunction issued by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson and a petition to remove Lawrence Lessig as a "special master" are still to be heard as part of the wider anti-trust case in which the DOJ contends that Microsoft's current marketing practices violate a 1995 consent decree.

Anti-trust issues in Europe are also causing concern to Microsoft. Following two anti-trust inquiries by the EU, the company has voluntarily offered to renegotiate its contracts with Internet service providers (ISPs) in Europe. The European commissioner Karl Van Miert said certain provisions in the contracts, believed to require reciprocal promotion of Microsoft products and ISP services, "flew in the face of competition".

"We decided proactively to amend the contracts because our business relationship with ISPs was changing and in the process of that we ought to act to try to remove any provisions in the contracts that may be controversial,'' said John Frank, Microsoft's European legal spokesman.

Hi-tech jobs going unfilled in US

A lack of suitably qualified Americans to fill high-wage, hi-tech positions is causing a split between parts of the business community in the US, which wants to relax immigration rules to satisfy the demand now, and the Clinton administration, which prefers to train Americans to fill the posts.

Last week saw the launch of a $28m plan to retrain American workers, create a national job bank for computer-related careers and launch a campaign to convince US students that computer careers are desirable. Industry representatives say such a programme cannot succeed because of the time scales involved, and that if caps on visas are not lifted the shortage of workers will threaten the sector that has fuelled American economic growth in recent years.

The size of the problem is shown in a survey by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which found up to 350,000 unfilled vacancies for programmers, systems analysts, computer engineers and computer scientists. Enrolment in computer science courses at US universities is down, from 50,000 in the Eighties to 24,400 who graduated with a bachelor's degree in computer science in 1995. Many of those students were foreign nationals who returned home.

Ireland benefits from Dell investment

Dell Computers announced it is to invest $250m in Ireland to enable it to keep up with its yearly growth rate of 45 per cent in Europe. The spending will almost double Dell's capacity in Europe, as well as in the Middle East and Africa.

The company will acquire and refurbish an existing plant on a 35-acre site in Castleroy, Co Limerick, and intends to purchase land near its Raheen, Co Limerick, facility as well as sales offices located elsewhere in Ireland and the UK.

Dell is Europe's fifth-biggest PC vendor, according to third-quarter 1997 figures from International Data Corporation, drawing 22 per cent of its revenue from Europe in that quarter. With 1,800 employees, the company is one of Ireland's top 10 foreign-based employers. The agreement is being treated by Dell and the Irish government as one of the country's largest ever job creation schemes. Between 2,000 and 3,000 people, "most of whom will be locals", will be employed in manufacturing, finance and administration, and customer service.