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Microsoft critics cheer ruling

The software giant's opponents flash a thumbs-up after the court ruling in the Justice Department's antitrust case.

Microsoft (MSFT) opponents cheered today's temporary order against the software giant, a clear indication that they believe the Justice Department's antitrust case is headed in the right direction.

Although the decision is temporary, industry rivals and consumer advocates claimed victory in this first legal round. The order by U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson See special report: MS-DOJ case in court temporarily forbids Microsoft from requiring its licensees to include the Internet Explorer Web browser with the Windows 95 operating system.

"We are extremely pleased that the court is restoring customer choice," said Lori Mirek, senior vice president of marketing for Netscape Communications. "What we see is that the court took an important step in leveling the playing field."

Consumer groups, which have waged a national campaign against Microsoft spearheaded by Ralph Nader, were encouraged by the judge's action but cautioned that the case is far from over. "Even on a temporary basis, the court told Microsoft to stop. On the other hand, the decision was nothing to throw a party about," said Audrie Krause, executive director with consumer group NetAction.

She was disappointed that the court did not side with the government's request to impose a $1 million daily fine for violating a 1995 consent degree. The judge found that Microsoft was not in civil contempt of that order, so no fine was issued.

Long-time Microsoft foe Gary Reback, an attorney with Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich, & Rosati who has represented Netscape, said several significant points arose out of today's court order. For one thing, he noted, "the judge indicates that Microsoft's action goes beyond the consent degree."

As a result, the ruling could extend to Microsoft's browser bundling requirements with content and Internet service providers--something that may cause the software behemoth to "think twice" about making such requirements in the future. Lastly, Reback said, it could give companies pause before doing business with Microsoft.

But PC manufacturers were hardly abandoning Internet Explorer. At Hewlett-Packard, spokesman Larry Sennett said it is too early to draw any definitive conclusions but noted that the court decision would not likely influence any product plans at HP.

"Why would you bother [with other browsers]?" Sennett asked. "There is no extra cost of using IE."

Analysts said another motive for using IE is a desire to stay in Microsoft's good graces.

"The reality is that if you are an original equipment maker, you use IE. The desire to annoy Microsoft is zero," said Chris LeTocq, software analyst at Dataquest . Plus, he said, "IE is, in and of itself, a great browser."