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The government considered but rejected penalties against Microsoft Corp. in its antitrust case that would have required the company to reveal the secret blueprints to its flagship Windows software and to distribute products from its fiercest rivals, court records show. The Justice Department also considered forcing Microsoft to sell a stripped-down version of Windows that did not include built-in software for browsing the Internet, reading e-mail, listening to music or sending instant-messages. Government lawyers “carefully weighed” those proposals but ultimately chose other sanctions against Microsoft that they believed would result in the “most effective and certain relief in the most timely manner.” In a 68-page court filing Thursday, the Justice Department formally defended its choices in the landmark settlement it negotiated between Microsoft and nine states. The government assured the judge the settlement, if approved by the court, would “eliminate Microsoft’s illegal practices, prevent recurrence of the same or similar practices and restore the competitive threat” the company faces from rivals. The Justice Department also set up an e-mail address where consumers and companies may send their comments about the antitrust settlement. The address is “[email protected]” and will operate for 60 days. Critics, including Microsoft competitors and some independent antitrust experts, have said the settlement announced Nov. 2 is inadequate and charged that the Redmond, Wash.-based company will be able to bypass many of the sanctions because of vague language. The government also sought in its court filing to clarify key provisions surrounding the secrecy of Microsoft’s technology to prevent consumers from making illegal copies of music or movies. Part of the settlement allows Microsoft to keep secret any information that might violate the security of such anti-piracy technology, and critics charged that Microsoft might use the exemption to hide details about many of its products. But the government told the judge that Microsoft must disclose to competitors all the capabilities of its anti-piracy music technology under the latest version of Windows, called XP. Microsoft can’t use the security exemption as a pretext for broadly keeping details about its software secret, lawyers said. The government said it will require Microsoft to live up to its promises through “strong enforcement provisions” and can seek criminal penalties and civil fines if the company violates the deal. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on Thursday defended the settlement as tough but one that “we’re really pleased to have.” Nine other states led by California, Iowa and Connecticut rejected it and will ask U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the District of Columbia to impose tougher penalties during hearings next year. “Despite the restrictions and the things in this settlement, having the uncertainty removed and the resource-drain removed we think is very positive, not only for Microsoft but for the industry,” Gates said in an interview. “We’re hopeful to get it put behind us.” The judge, who must approve the settlement, tentatively set a hearing for February to review the deal. She has not signaled how she might rule but has pressed the sides strongly to negotiate an end to the case. Microsoft and the Justice Department have suffered during such reviews before. Another judge, Stanley Sporkin, now retired, scrapped a proposed settlement between Gates and the government in a closely related case in February 1995, when Sporkin determined the decree was not in the public interest. The department promised in its 1995 settlement that it would “end Microsoft’s unlawful practices that restrain trade and perpetuate its monopoly power.” Yet as Sporkin rejected it, he complained that, “simply telling a defendant to go forth and sin no more does little or nothing to address the unfair advantage it has already gained.” A U.S. appeals court in spring 1995 overturned Sporkin’s decision, saying he relied on inappropriate evidence, and removed him from the case. Another federal judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson, replaced him and approved that settlement in August 1995. Jackson himself was removed from the current case this year by the same appeals court for “flagrant” ethical violations, after he secretly granted interviews to reporters during the trial. Gates also expressed hope that more states will agree to join the settlement. “We really don’t know exactly what will happen with the states. We hope they come in, and we’re just moving forward,” he said. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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