Microsoft hints at settlement

Microsoft CFO John Connors held his first meeting with financial analysts since he took the job, and the news was as good as it ever was under former CFO Greg Maffei, who left the post in December. But news of Microsoft's projected earnings paled next to hints that the software giant was close to settling its antitrust case with the U.S. government. Fueling rumors was the company's decision not to publicize the meeting: Spokespeople referred to it as "informal" and "general."

However, analysts who were at the meeting made statements that caused the most excitement. Software analyst Walter Winnitzki reported that Microsoft seemed confident that a settlement was imminent, although he didn't directly say so. "The feeling was \[that\] there was a near-term opportunity to have this settled, some language being given that they wouldn't have any change in culture or structure," Winnitzki said.

Goldman Sachs analyst Rich Sherlund is even surer that a settlement is pending. Sherlund reported that he spoke to Connors after the meeting with analysts. Following his private meeting with Connors, Sherlund said that a settlement was due "in weeks, not months" and that "\[Microsoft\] management appears to be very focused on settling the lawsuit." Sherlund also said that Connors's "legal \[team\] beat him up over my comments that it might be weeks, not months."

A settlement would surely cause Microsoft's stock to rebound. After cresting at 108 during the Windows 2000 product launch, the company's stock has fallen as low as 89 in recent days, though it rebounded into the mid-90s this week

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