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A Reprieve for Microsoft

Tuesday was to be judgment day for Microsoft in its antitrust case with Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson promising a verdict, barring no progress in settlement talks.

But antitrust experts say the judge may be persuaded to hold off on his verdict for a few more days if asked by both sides, reports CBS MarketWatch TV Correspondent Betsy Karetnick. Many believe that the ruling could be 10 days off.

Joseph Alexander, press liaison for the U.S. District Court, told Reuters no decision would be handed down Tuesday.

The Microsoft Corp.'s latest offer to settle its antitrust lawsuit, put forth last week, is being given another chance. It may not totally satisfy the government, but it appears to have been enough to postpone a verdict.

Jackson has made it clear he will rule strongly against Microsoft. Last November, he issued the first phase of his judgment with harsh findings that accepted nearly all allegations of illegal anti-competitive behavior by the company.

And experts believe that any settlement deal will significantly alter Microsoft, reports CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

"Microsoft's grip over the consumer software business is actually starting to loosen," said William Kovacic, law professor at George Washington University. "If Microsoft accepts restrictions on its behavior, which would be the core of the settlement with the government, we'd probably see the acceleration of that trend so that Microsoft would remain a very powerful company, but it would never achieve the pre-eminence it had in the past."

Shares of Microsoft dropped in trading Monday over the latest uncertainties.

Jackson had warned lawyers from both sides that he would announce his decision today if they failed to make any progress during settlement talks, which were being coordinated in Chicago by a federal appeals judge, Richard Posner.

Some of the difficulties in evaluating Microsoft's offer stemmed from the large number of plaintiffs, which include 19 states in addition to the federal government. The Justice Department was discussing Microsoft's 10-page proposal with states, and some state officials were exchanging thoughts in a series of telephone conference calls Monday.

In the upcoming phase, Jackson must identify which federal laws, if any, Microsoft violated. If settlement efforts are fruitless, the judge was expected to decide on sanctions after hearings later in the spring or summer.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Microsoft's offer includes allowing computer makers to modify the blueprints to all current and future versions of its Windows software to embed competitors' technologies. The Journal said the offer also limits Microsoft from rewarding or punishing computer makers by banning discrimination for Windows' prices.

©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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