Last-ditch effort in Microsoft's anti-trust case

A last-ditch effort to reach agreement on the Microsoft anti-trust case was under way yesterday, although hopes of a deal were receding.

The US government and 19 states charge that the software giant abused its monopoly power, and a federal judge is close to issuing a judgment.

Microsoft and its accusers have been wrangling over a deal that could head off drastic measures, such as breaking up the company, but the talks seem to be stalled. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson yesterday delayed issuing his conclusions of law in the case, as talks continued.

Microsoft has put forward a compromise offer that would open up the source code for Windows, the operating system at the heart of the case, andeliminate discounts that allegedly give large favoured makers an advantage.

But the offer was seen by many as too little and too late. It also relies heavily on Microsoft's future conduct, and many officials were reported to be concerned about the scope for enforcement.

Hampering the possibilities for compromise are splits between the individual states that are contesting the case, with some favouring harsh solutions and others preferring a quick deal.

Judge Jackson's findings of fact, released in November, concluded that Microsoft had monopoly power and there is a strong expectation that he will find that the company abused that influence. After the conclusions of law, he would then be expected to issue legal remedies.

Richard A Posner, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals in Chicago, has been mediating between the two sides. If he had made progress, then both sides were expected to meet in Chicago yesterday, but all the signs were that they remained in their offices. Judge Posner was believed to have requested the delay in the ruling, with some reports saying that it would be another 10 days before a decision was made.

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