Fast hearing for Microsoft

Browser beef takes new turn as court agrees to speed hearing on Microsoft appeal of preliminary injunction

NEW YORK — A federal appeals court agreed Tuesday to give Microsoft Corp. a quick hearing on its appeal of a preliminary injunction related to the combination of its Internet browser with its computer operating system software.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed to the expedited hearing, setting up a new confrontation with the government early next year.

The preliminary injunction, granted Dec. 11 by U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson at the request of the Justice Dept., prohibited Microsoft from forcing computer makers to include its Internet browser software, Internet Explorer, with its operating system software, Windows 95.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant appealed the ruling, calling it unworkable, and asked for an expedited hearing. Ordinarily, it takes months for the Court of Appeals to hear a case.

“We’ve said all along it’s important to resolve these issues for consumers and for the broader software industry as quickly as possible,” Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said.

The appellate court will not decide the final case — that is up to Judge Jackson — but instead will rule whether Jackson was correct when he issued his preliminary injunction.

Also Tuesday, the Dept. of Justice managed to squeak in one more filing in the case, charging that Microsoft is in contempt of a Jackson’s order that it decouple its browser and operating system and adding that the company’s interpretation of that order is “twisted” and “patently unreasonable.”

Microsoft attorneys, in a filing last week, had alleged that the DOJ was making a 180-degree change in its position, first asking the company to completely decouple Internet Explorer 4.0 files from its Windows 95 and NT operating systems, then dictating to Microsoft executives which files to decouple and which to leave alone.

That filing did nothing, however, to answer the judge’s observation that, with a few clicks of a mouse and about 90 seconds of effort, Internet Explorer 4.0 could for all intents and purposes be operatively uninstalled from any Windows installation, and that for Microsoft to insist otherwise was disingenuous and possibly grounds for contempt.

The $1 million per day fine could be slapped on the deep-pocketed software company as early as Jan. 13, when Jackson issues his preliminary ruling on the DOJ case.

(Reuters in Washington contributed to this report.)

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