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Microsoft Inc. Could Be Held In Contempt, Pending Ruling

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

A federal judge examining whether Microsoft Corp. is violating a court order Tuesday sharply criticized key legal arguments raised by a lawyer representing the software giant in its long-running antitrust battle with the Justice Department.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson repeatedly challenged Microsoft's focus on wording used by the Justice Department in legal briefs asking that the company be held in contempt of court. Jackson pointedly told Microsoft attorney Richard Urowsky that the discussion should be confined to the judge's order requiring the company to offer a version of its Windows 95 operating system without an Internet browser.

"Irrespective of what the government said it is my language, and my language alone, which is at issue here," Jackson said.

A short while later, when Urowsky complained that the Justice Department's current solution for separating Windows and the browser differs from the government's statements in earlier legal papers, Jackson was ready with a biting rejoinder.

"It's been said that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," Jackson said, paraphrasing the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Jackson will hear more testimony in the case Wednesday. He has not indicated when he intends to issue a ruling.

The judge on Dec. 11 issued a preliminary injunction ordering Microsoft to offer a version of Windows 95 without the browser while a court-appointed official studies whether the company's integration of the browser and operating system violates a 1995 consent decree with the government. The department contends Microsoft is trying to get a leg up in the browser market over rivals and use that advantage to influence commerce and content on the Internet.

In response, Microsoft began offering makers of personal computers that don't want its Internet Explorer browser two stripped-down versions of Windows 95: One contains no browser files and will not operate; the other lacks key functions offered in current editions of Windows. The company argues that current versions of Windows 95 will not work without every "file" that they believe makes up Internet Explorer.

Contending that Microsoft was offering PC makers "commercially worthless" options, the Justice Department asked Jackson to hold the company in contempt.