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Microsoft trial "findings" expected today

The judge presiding over the Microsoft antitrust trial is expected to issue his findings of fact today.

The judge presiding over the Microsoft antitrust trial is expected to issue his findings of fact today.

However, legal experts caution that U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has disappointed trial watchers before, and he could do so again. The judge, under the court procedural process, need not rush his findings. Penfield, however, is notorious for moving things along quickly, said sources close to the court.

Jackson in a statement issued several weeks ago said he would release his findings of fact on a Friday at 3:30 PT. Government and Microsoft attorneys will get about two hours notice today if the findings are to be handed down.

Jackson's findings of fact are not a ruling, and are only the first stop on a long legal road that could ultimately lead to the Supreme Court.

In the case, the Justice Department and 19 states allege Microsoft used its Windows monopoly muscle to crush Web browser rival Netscape Communications, now owned by America Online.

"It's interesting he plans to issue the findings after the [stock] market closes for the weekend, giving everyone time to digest them," said Rich Gray, an intellectual property attorney with the Outside General Counsel of Silicon Valley.

That timing has some antitrust attorneys speculating that the findings of fact may go badly for Microsoft.

But other experts think that while Jackson may fault Microsoft, he may agree with the software maker's contention that market changes negate aggressive intervention, such as breaking up the company. They suggest the judge will use his findings to send a message to both sides that they need to settle.

Because the findings of fact are only the judge's distillation of both sides' points of view and not a ruling, they only shed light on where he will eventually go with the case.

The key to understanding how the judge may eventually rule is how many of the government's claims he accepts for misconduct on the part of Microsoft.

"The government has given the judge a menu of conduct-related allegations," said Georgetown University School of Law professor Bill Kovacic. "If he signals, 'I'm going to order light today, just one of these and one of these rather than a five-course, price-fixed blowout,' that's another way to signal to them they [the government] might get a trophy but they won't need a whole wall to hang it on."

Whichever Friday Jackson issues his findings, a media frenzy is expected to follow. Industry groups rallying for and against Microsoft, as well the lead state attorneys general and Microsoft, plan weekend briefings on the case.

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