Microsoft Antitrust Appeal, Class-Action Lawsuit Heat Up

Two of Microsoft's court cases heated up this week: The company tried to bar the public from its upcoming antitrust hearings at the same time that negotiations in its class-action settlement are reportedly falling apart. Repeating a tactic it unsuccessfully tried earlier during its appeal, Microsoft has asked Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to bar the public from witness depositions in the upcoming phase of its antitrust trial. Earlier, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied this request, citing an obscure federal law; the decision resulted in the public release of all witness-deposition tapes and transcripts in the case, including the infamous Bill Gates deposition videos. Microsoft says that the court should vacate this decision, however, because several US states brought the upcoming trial phase, not the federal government.

Meanwhile, settlement negotiations in Microsoft's controversial antitrust-related class-action lawsuit have reportedly gone nowhere. If the two sides can't reach an agreement by 5:00 P.M. today, Judge J. Frederick Motz says he will hand down a preliminary ruling on the proposed settlement, which came under fire from many groups for being lopsided and preferential to Microsoft. If Judge Motz approves the deal, his decision will end more than 100 class-action lawsuits related to Windows overpricing; the lawsuits arose in the days after the court found Microsoft guilty of sweeping antitrust charges.

Microsoft says that the settlement, which would provide refurbished computers, Microsoft software, and training to more than 12,000 of the nation's poorest schools, is worth more than $1 billion. But critics charge that the settlement is worth far less than $1 billion, gives the company a leg up in the education market, and doesn't address the original complaint. For these reasons, attorneys from California have rejected the deal and asked the judge to exempt the state from it. Judge Motz expressed reservations about Microsoft's proposed settlement and is unlikely to unconditionally support the deal.

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