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Justice Department presses for contempt order against Microsoft

The US Justice Department yesterday urged a federal judge to hold Microsoft in contempt of an anti-trust lawsuit involving Windows computer software, and accused the company of trying to evade the will of the court.

"Microsoft's naked attempt to defeat the purpose of the court order and to further its litigation strategy is an affront to the court's authority," the government asserted in papers filed in District Court in Washington.

"Microsoft has cynically acted as if the preliminary injunction permits it to perpetuate the very ... [condition] the court enjoined," it added. The action is the latest volley in an anti-trust lawsuit accusing Microsoft of using its dominance in Windows 95 software to gain business in the Internet browser market.

Last week, a judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering Microsoft to quit requiring computer makers to distribute the Internet Explorer browser program as a condition of installing Windows 95 software on their PCs. Microsoft has lodged an appeal. It follows a lawsuit contending that Microsoft violated a 1995 order aimed at preventing anti-competitive practices. The government sought a pounds 1m-a- day fine if the company refused to obey a contempt finding. "Microsoft has gone from tying its products to tying the hands of its vendors," Joel I. Klein, assistant attorney general for antitrust, said in a prepared statement.

In a letter to the Justice Department on Wednesday, Microsoft said it "believes it is in full compliance" with the order. Microsoft said that to comply with the order, it would offer computer makers a stripped-down version of Windows 95 software which does not include the Internet Explorer. But in doing so, Microsoft complained, it would be offering Windows software that was out of date or simply wouldn't work.

US state officials, fresh from winning a settlement with the tobacco industry, have in the mean time joined forces again to consider a national antitrust battle against Microsoft Corp. "I think action by the states is close to a certainty," the Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said.