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DOJ's big day: That was it?

Today's widely anticipated hearing in the Justice Department's case against Microsoft turns out to be little more than an exercise in frustration.

    WASHINGTON--What a letdown.

    Unlike the first sparsely attended hearing in the Justice Department's case against Microsoft in late October, today's session was packed with reporters eager for some major development that was widely anticipated.

    Would Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson allow more time for See special report:
MS-DOJ case in courtfact-finding, as Microsoft had hoped, or hand down a summary judgment right on the spot, as the government had asked?

    To the surprise of even the most seasoned Beltway insiders, he did neither.

    No sooner had Microsoft attorney Richard Urowski finished his argument that the judge abruptly stood up, said the matter was considered submitted, and walked out--leaving throngs of people in his courtroom looking at each other and wondering what on Earth had just happened.

    Spectators, reporters, attorneys, and representatives of Microsoft's competitors had stood in line for hours to get into Jackson's small courtroom, many flying into town just to attend the event.

    It was an exercise in frustration and a clear example of why the public has lost much of its faith in the American judicial system.

    Couldn't all of this wasted time--at least some of it at taxpayer expense--been avoided? Couldn't Jackson have taken a cue from his fellow jurist in the celebrated trial of au pair Louise Woodward and sent email to the press about the proceedings?

    Those who hadn't come early enough were relegated to standing outside in the faint hope that someone would leave at some point, leaving a seat to be snatched up. (This reporter arranged for someone to stand in line for her since 7:30 a.m. ET, six hours before the hearing was to begin.)

    Imagine the collective irritation at the brevity of the proceedings, which followed hours of waiting, uncomfortable transcontinental flights, and nights in nondescript hotel rooms.

    "I was so teed off I could have jumped across the bench and throttled him!" one obviously agitated reporter exclaimed as exited the courtroom.