The judge hearing the Justice Department's case against Microsoft (MSFT) today set a hearing for January 13 on whether the software giant should be held in contempt of court for allegedly violating an order issued last week.
At a scheduling conference this morning, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson set the hearing to consider Justice allegations that Microsoft's plans to offer two separate versions of Windows 95 "flouted" last week's preliminary order forbidding "any Microsoft personal computer operating system software" to be bundled with "any Internet browser software."
In comments that may indicate a growing impatience with Microsoft, Jackson remarked today that his clerk had been able to uninstall Internet Explorer 3.0 in some 90 seconds. "Windows 95 functioned flawlessly" with the Web browser removed, he said. "If it's not that simple, I'd like to have it refuted."
A Microsoft spokesman acknowledged that a utility shipped with Windows 95 will remove visible portions of the browsing software, but he stressed that the "deinstall" program deletes only a small percentage of the IE code.
"What the judge's clerk did in running that deinstall program is delete the icon and a couple of other files that make Internet Explorer accessible," said the spokesman, Mark Murray. "But 97 percent of the Internet Explorer code is still right there on that computer." Microsoft attorneys have argued a solution based on this approach would not comply with Jackson's preliminary injunction.
The order, which Microsoft is appealing with a higher court, is to stay in place pending a final decision in the case, which is not expected until June. Earlier this week, the Justice Department accused Microsoft of attempting to "rewrite the injunction to permit precisely what it precludes" and asked Jackson to fine Microsoft $1 million per day.
The judge asked Microsoft to file a reply to the allegations by December 23 and directed the Justice Department to issue a response no later than December 29, according to a DOJ spokesman. At the January hearing, both sides will be allowed to call one expert witness.
This latest controversy of Jackson's preliminary injunction is part of a larger case the Justice Department brought against Microsoft in October, in which it accused the software giant of violating the terms of a 1995 consent decree by requiring licensees of Windows 95 to include the Internet Explorer Web browser.
Reuters contributed to this report.