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Microsoft still on antitrust hook

Now that the Federal Trade Commission is officially investigating Intel, federal regulators have both halves of "Wintel" under scrutiny.

    Now that the Federal Trade Commission is officially investigating Intel's (INTC) business practices, federal regulators have both halves of "Wintel" under scrutiny.

    The other half, of course, is Microsoft (MSFT), whose mergers, acquisitions, and dominance of the desktop software market have kept the company under almost constant federal review for years.

    The software giant is under the microscope at the Justice Department, and Congress seems to be moving closer to investigating high-tech antitrust matters. Any investigation likely would include some examination of Microsoft.

    The FTC's Intel inquiry could spur slow-moving legislators to open up hearings, according to one observer.

    "It certainly will make it more likely that Congress will hold hearings," said Ray Hartwell, a partner and antitrust specialist at law firm Hunton & Williams. "It's also another indication that the federal antitrust enforcement agencies are very interested in what's going on in the computer industry."

    On Capitol Hill, the Senate's antitrust subcommittee has put the computer industry on its agenda and hopes to hold hearings this fall. "It's still premature..." said Charles Boesel, spokesman for subcommittee chairman Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio).

    "[The Intel case] raises the profile of the computer industry," said DeWine staff member Mary Brown Brewer, but so far it hasn't affected the subcommittee's timetable.

    Neither Brown nor Boesel named Microsoft specifically, but such a hearing without any focus on Microsoft would be highly surprising, Hartwell said.

    Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray declined to comment on the subcommittees' plans.

    The Justice Department currently is looking into Microsoft's plans to integrate its browser into the Windows operating system. In recent months, the agency also has reviewed the company's activity in the streaming media market, its investment in Apple Computer, and its $425 million purchase of WebTV. The department cleared the purchase of WebTV last month, but the other investigations are ongoing.

    Microsoft agreed in a 1994 consent decree to refrain from anticompetitive bundling and licensing of its Windows operating system, but there has been no federal action against the company since.

    Software rivals have expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of the Justice investigation. Earlier this summer, three senators petitioned the FTC to open an investigation, but their request was rejected because of a policy forbidding any overlap in inquiries by federal agencies.