Microsoft Corp. urged a federal court judge to discard a government plan to break up the software giant as punishment for violating antitrust laws, instead proposing Wednesday that far less stringent curbs be imposed on its business practices.
The submission of its remedy plan to U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson sets in motion a crucial race to conclude the landmark antitrust case before a new administration takes office, or before a fast-moving technology industry renders obsolete the key issues in the case.
In its proposal, Microsoft offered to hide its Internet Explorer Web browser by removing the desktop icon in its Windows operating system. The company also said it would give PC makers the flexibility to display any software, including non-Microsoft icons, on the desktop screen.
The company also promised to end the use of restrictive contracts favoring its own software products and to offer equal access to critical pieces of its software code to independent software makers.
Faced with the unpleasant task of deciding how it should be sanctioned for breaking the law, Microsoft offered to quickly accept its own punishment plan in exchange for Jackson rejecting the government remedies.
The software giant said its plan could be implemented almost immediately, but said ''if the court elects to consider the full range of relief requested by the government'' any hearing on sanctions should not begin until Dec. 4 -- after a new president is elected.
Antitrust experts believe the judge will grant Microsoft a few months more time to defend its case -- but not until December.
Industry critics and government lawyers attacked Microsoft's plan as too weak and ineffective to resolve a far-reaching dispute that has been called the biggest business case since the breakup of the Standard Oil Co. in 1911.
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