Microsoft's EU Case Expected to End with Split Decision

According to a report in the "International Herald Tribune," Microsoft's years-long antitrust battle with the European Union (EU) will most likely end in a split decision. The EU Court of First Instance previously announced that it will reveal its final ruling in the case on September 17. Additionally, Bo Vesterdorf, the judge overseeing the case, will retire on the day the decision is made public.

Given the gravity of the case and Microsoft's continued lack of compliance with the initial ruling, whatever ruling does occur will be widely debated and precedent setting. Lawyers on both sides now say they expect Vesterdorf to give both Microsoft and the EU victories on key legal points, effectively splitting the decision.

The lawyers apparently believe that Microsoft will emerge victorious on the bundling issue, which would allow the company to freely add new features to future Windows versions without government intervention. But the EU is correct in requiring Microsoft to share interoperability data with competitors at a reasonable cost, they say, given the software giant's de facto monopoly of the PC desktop. If the final ruling is split along these lines, European lawyers expect the court to reduce the record $681 million fine it has already imposed on Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Vesterdorf is not speaking. The judge has been in isolation since announcing the date of the final ruling and will not speak with the media about the case, which dates back to a 1998 complaint by Sun Microsystems. And September 17 might not be the end of this case after all: Either side could appeal the decision to the European Court of Justice, a process that could tack another three years onto this seemingly never-ending drama.

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