Is Microsoft Ready To Settle?

It was reported yesterday that Microsoft Corp. has asked the U.S. Congress to intercede on its behalf, as talks to settle the government’s antitrust case against the software giant have failed to produce an agreement.

Reportedly, in a February 9th e-mail message to members of Congress, Microsoft lobbyist Kerry Knott pointed out that the company would consider a breakup to be “the equivalent of a regulatory death sentence.”

At the same time, Microsoft assured Congress that it is “serious about trying to settle this case,” and added that “a commonsense settlement is possible.”

So far, talks with court-appointed mediator Chief Judge Richard Posner have failed to produce an out-of-court settlement. However, it has been rumored that antitrust enforcers have collectively come to believe that Microsoft should be broken up into two separate units.

Is a Quick Settlement Possible?

Some analysts are interpreting Microsoft’s e-mail appeal as a signal that the company is finally ready to settle, before it is forcibly broken in two.

Additionally, some elected officials still believe that it is not too late for Microsoft and the government to abort their collision course.

“Both consumers and the industry would benefit from a fair resolution of this case,” said Senator Tom Daschle in a statement. “The current mediation provides both parties a unique opportunity to resolve this dispute in a way that strikes a balance between the importance of our antitrust laws and innovation.”

Not a Conciliatory Gesture

Nonetheless, many observers feel that Microsoft is once again grandstanding and has absolutely no intention of agreeing to a quick settlement.

Stephen Houck, a former trial counsel for the 19 states that joined the U.S. Department in suing Microsoft, reportedly said that the e-mail shows that Microsoft is trying to resolve the issue politically, rather than by negotiation.

Troubles Compounded

Compounding Microsoft’s problems, the European Union (EU) announced last week that it has opened its own antitrust probe against the company.

The European probe will focus on potentially illegal bundling of server software with the Windows 2000 operating system, as opposed to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust suit, which alleged that Microsoft illegally bundled its Internet Explorer browser with Windows 98.

Keep Stonewalling

During this lengthy antitrust ordeal, I have at times thought that a settlement was imminent between Microsoft and the government. At other times, I have felt that the case would drag on for years.

However, if there is one constant that I have come to understand about Microsoft’s actions, it is that they never seem to live up to the predictions of pundits. Of course, I have also noticed one other attribute about Microsoft as well: It never gives an inch unless it takes a mile.

Therefore, I believe that Microsoft will continue stonewalling and not reach a quick settlement — regardless of what this latest ploy might have you believe.

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