Microsoft, Feds Near Antitrust Deal - 2

Microsoft's long-running antitrust battle with the federal government may soon be over.

Microsoft Corp.s long-running antitrust battle with the federal government may soon be over.

According to published reports, the software giant is close to a settlement with the Department of Justice. Details of the agreement are sketchy, but The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times report the preliminary agreement calls for a consent decree between Microsoft and the federal government that would lead to five years of monitoring of the companys behavior. The monitoring would be extended two more years if Microsoft violated any the provisions of the decree.

The agreement, however, would require essentially no changes in the design of Microsofts Windows software and lacks strong enforcement mechanisms, sources close to the talks told the newspapers.

Under the deal Microsoft reportedly would allow original equipment manufacturers more freedom to install software into its operating systems that would compete with Microsofts own products. Microsoft would also make some proprietary technical information available to competitors, although how much is not yet clear.

Microsoft, however, would not be banned from bundling its own products into its operating systems, which would be a major victory for the company. The company has argued throughout the four-year-old case that the government was effectively attempting to restrict its ability to innovate.

It was unclear whether the states attorneys general would sign on to the deal, which they have been reviewing since yesterday. Their refusal to agree to the settlement could keep the case in court.

The tentative agreement, if it holds, comes just under the wire for a Friday deadline imposed for a settlement by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. Kollar-Kotelly was assigned to oversee the remedy portion of the trial after a federal appeals court upheld Judge Thomas Penfield Jacksons original findings of law that Microsoft was guilty of illegal monopoly maintenance.