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Trial's restart date may be pushed back

The judge extends the witness-announcement date for the rebuttal phase after Microsoft and the government agree to the change.

Lawyers on both sides of the Microsoft antitrust battle have until May 3 to announce the witnesses they plan to call during the rebuttal phase of the trial, the judge hearing the case said today.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Microsoft's day in court Jackson extended the date after both sides agreed to the change, a court official said. The date for disclosing the witnesses had been set for today.

The trial has been in recess since February so that Jackson can try a criminal drug-conspiracy case. The prosecution in that trial is still calling witnesses, casting doubt that the case will be wrapped up any time soon. At a recent hearing, Jackson scheduled Microsoft's trial to resume on May 10 or on whatever Monday followed the end of the conspiracy case. It now appears that the Microsoft trial may not begin until the end of May at the earliest.

Both sides have declined to discuss what witnesses they plan to call when the trial resumes. Speculation runs high that both will call economists. There has also been talk the government might call Steve Case and Ted Waitt, chief executives from America Online and Gateway, respectively. Observers also say they wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft recalled Brad Chase, a vice president, to testify about AOL's $10 billion buyout of Netscape Communications.

Microsoft has said it has not ruled out calling its chief executive Bill Gates, whose deposition in the case turned into a major public relations problem for the Redmond, Washington, company.

Jackson's order comes the same week that public depositions are to get underway in the trial. Microsoft lawyers on Wednesday will depose former Netscape executive vice president Peter Currie in Washington, D.C. They will take the deposition of Sun Microsystems vice president and chief operating officer of staff operations Mike Popov on Friday at the San Francisco federal courthouse.

AOL's interactive services president Barry Schuler and Case are expected to be deposed next week.