Microsoft, AOL end document scuffle

The corporations resolve their differences over which documents will be released as part of the ongoing litigation in the software giant's antitrust trial.

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AOL Time Warner and Microsoft on Monday resolved their differences over which documents will be released as part of the ongoing litigation in the software giant's antitrust trial.

On Wednesday, Microsoft filed a brief with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asserting that AOL Time Warner had not released all of the documents requested as part of a discovery process. AOL Time Warner charged that Microsoft filed its Wednesday brief in response to a different lawsuit that Netscape Communications--a unit of AOL--had filed the previous day.

AOL Time Warner shot back Thursday with its own brief, asking U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to accept filings from both companies starting this week. Microsoft responded within hours, saying the company's lawyers would not "dignify the misrepresentations in AOL's reply" with its own reply. Later that day, the judge issued an order telling both sides to resolve their differences.

In a Monday letter to Kollar-Kotelly, AOL lawyers wrote that "AOL and Microsoft are pleased to inform the court that they have resolved their differences regarding the outstanding discovery disputes that were the subject of Microsoft's motion to compel. That motion is therefore withdrawn." Microsoft lawyers sent a separate letter stating basically the same information.

The squabbling comes as the two separate tracks of the landmark antitrust case approach critical junctures.

A 60-day public comment period ends Monday for the settlement cut among Microsoft, the Justice Department and nine of 18 states. The Justice Department has 30 days to respond to the comments before Kollar-Kotelly decides whether to approve, amend or reject the settlement proposal.

At the same time, ongoing litigation is moving toward a March 11 remedy hearing. Discovery is under way, and depositions commence Feb. 1. Nine other states and the District of Columbia chose to continue to litigate rather than join the settlement. They have already asked Kollar-Kotelly for stiffer sanctions against Microsoft than those put forth in the settlement.

see special coverage: Microsoft, DOJ reach settlement Under terms of the proposed settlement, Microsoft would agree to refrain from using contracts and taking actions that would compel other companies to do its bidding. Microsoft also would be prohibited from retaliating against PC manufacturers or software developers supporting competing products.

But the Windows operating system, at the heart of a court ruling that branded Microsoft an egregious monopolist, would emerge largely unchanged, and the Windows XP operating system--once a focal point of further proceedings--would be free of any significant restrictions.

The litigating states want Microsoft to open up the source code to its Internet Explorer Web browser, carry Sun Microsystems' Java in Windows for 10 years, and license through auction the Office productivity suite for competing operating systems. A "crown jewel" provision could force Microsoft to open the source code to Windows, should the company violate the remedy.

Kollar-Kotelly could decide on both matters as early as March.