Microsoft cheered by Windows ruling

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MICROSOFT last night won an important skirmish in its war with the United States Justice Department over allegations that its Windows operating system unfairly harms its competitors in the software industry.

A federal appeals court last night ruled that the US government, which is contesting the integration into Windows of Microsoft's internet browser function, the Explorer, had a "very weak" chance of winning a permanent injunction against the release of Microsoft's latest version of its software system, Windows 98.

Acting on a complaint from the Justice Department, a lower court judge last December issued a preliminary injunction barring Microsoft from bundling the Explorer into Windows 95 and "successor versions", which would include Windows 98.

Microsoft appealed the original injunction last December in a higher court. Only last week, however, it filed a fresh appeal specifically requesting that the decision should not apply to Windows 98.

Last night's decision means an important hurdle is removed from the launch of Windows 98. Microsoft is planning to begin shipping the new system to personal computer manufacturers this Friday.

It may be a shortlived victory for the company, however. The Justice Department is believed to be weighing a much broader lawsuit against Microsoft. Many observers expect the new suit to be filed this week, in which case the launch of Windows 98 may be in trouble once again.

In last night's ruling, the three-judge appeals court declared: "Whatever the United States's chances of winning permanent injunctive relief with respect to Windows 95 in the proceeding currently in the district court, they appear very weak with respect to Windows 98".

Meanwhile yesterday, Sun Microsystems, a rival software company, said that it had asked the courts to block the shipping of Windows 98. Sun claims that Microsoft has incorporated into Windows 98 a polluted version of the Java computer language that it had originally invented.

"We are not seeking an injunction to stop shipping of Windows 98, we want to make sure that it includes a fully compatible version of the Java language," Alan Baratz, president of Sun's Java software division, said.