The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today granted Microsoft (MSFT) its request for an expedited hearing to appeal a temporary injunction that prevents it from requiring computer vendors to bundle its Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system.
Microsoft, which is embroiled in a protracted fight with the Justice Department over whether it violated the terms of a 1995 antitrust consent decree, was issued the temporary injunction earlier this month by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson.
Microsoft seeks to have the injunction lifted by the U.S. Court of Appeals, but the issue of whether the software giant violated the 1995 consent decree will be decided by Judge Jackson some time after written briefs are submitted in January and March. An official date for the hearing has not yet been set.
An appeals case of this nature usually takes more than a year to go to trial, but if the matter proceeds on a track similar to Microsoft's appeal for an expedited hearing in the antitrust case that resulted in the 1995 consent decree agreement with the Justice Department, it may be only three to four months before the appeals court renders a final decision.
"This is a positive step, but it's one step in the procedural process," said Mark Murray, a Microsoft spokesman.
Murray also said that Microsoft had planned to stick to its Windows 98 shipping schedule even before the expedited hearing request was granted.
"We feel strongly that Windows 98 will be released on schedule regardless," Murray said. "But this is a positive step, in that we have said all along that it's critical to resolve these issues for consumers and software vendors as quickly as possible."
A DOJ spokesman, meanwhile, said the appeals court order comes as no surprise.
"We fully expected this decision and are happy with the timetable laid out by the court," said Michael Gordon. "It is important to note that this has nothing to do with the merits of Microsoft's case."
In the midst of these latest events, Microsoft is facing another court--with the Justice Department. At issue are charges that the software giant did not adhere to the temporary injunction, charges that will be duked out January 13 before Judge Jackson. Justice is seeking a fine of $1 million per day until Microsoft comes into compliance, agency officials have said.
After the injunction was issued, Microsoft said it would either offer computer makers an old version of Windows 95 that does not contain the browser, or provide vendors with a list of files so they can remove the browser code themselves. Microsoft has argued that removing the files will render the operating system virtually useless.
The Justice Department nevertheless has said that the options Microsoft has offered to vendors are not viable alternatives and do not live up to the intent of the injunction.