Microsoft faces legal curbs as monopoly talks fail

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MICROSOFT and its multi-billionaire founder, Bill Gates, appear certain to be hit tomorrow by one of the largest anti-trust lawsuits ever attempted by the US authorities, writes David Usborne in New York.

Last-ditch talks between the company and government lawyers in Washington ended in abrupt failure last night.

The breakdown virtually guarantees that the US Justice Department and a coalition of attorneys general from about 20 US states will announce sweeping lawsuits against the software giant for alleged abuse of its dominant position in the personal computer industry.

The suits are likely to seek to bar Microsoft from beginning the shipment of its latest system, Windows 98, until it meets new conditions. The company had already delayed shipments from last Friday until tomorrow.

Over the longer term, government lawyers are expected to seek a series of restraints on the power of Microsoft, which provides the operating software for 90 per cent of new PCs. At its most extreme, the action could even demand the breakup of the company into two or more parts.

The US government has only twice succeeded in sledge-hammering an existing monopoly, first when it forcibly splintered John D Rockefeller's Standard Oil in 1911 and again in 1984 when the old AT&T telephone monopoly was dismantled.