WASHINGTON -- A federal judge's decision to approve a settlement of Microsoft Corp.'s long-running antitrust case gives the software giant a huge victory, but state officials and competitors who argue the punishments are too weak are considering further legal action.
For now at least, consumers who have made Microsoft's Windows operating system the dominant force in computing won't see many immediate changes because the company has already been implementing many of the changes called for in the settlement.
And the technology industry, which for two years faced the possibility that Microsoft might be broken into two as punishment for monopolistic behavior, is getting increased access to previously secret technical data about Windows designed to help its rivals compete better.
Whatever happens, Microsoft chairman and founder Bill Gates promised the company will closely adhere to U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's ruling Friday. In it, she made clear she believes the company in the past played down its illegal behavior and she'll be watching to make sure that doesn't happen again.
"Let it not be said of Microsoft that 'a prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise,' for the court will exercise its full panoply of powers to ensure that the letter and spirit of the remedial decree is carried out," the judge wrote, quoting Renaissance philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli.
The settlement bars Microsoft from retaliating against or threatening computer manufacturers and compels it to distribute technical data and let consumers remove icons for some Microsoft software.
The states still suing wanted Microsoft to divulge more technical information, give away the blueprints to its Internet Explorer Web browser and allow users to completely remove some Microsoft features from Windows rather than just hide access to them.
Kollar-Kotelly concluded that many of the penalties proposed by those states would chiefly benefit the company's rivals. Executives of AOL Time Warner, Sun Microsystems, Palm and SBC Communications testified against Microsoft during court hearings earlier this year.
"It appears that these types of remedial provisions seek to convert certain legitimate aspects of Microsoft's business model and/or product design into a model which resembles that of other industry participants simply for the sake of changing the status quo," the judge wrote.
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