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Justice Department's landmark judgment against Microsoft will expire

Gates1998

The Department of Justice's 10-year-old antitrust judgment against Microsoft will expire on Thursday, marking the end of what is perhaps the most famous U.S. antitrust action against a technology company.

The judgment barred Microsoft from anti-competitive practices that regulators said had been choking off competing software on the company's Windows platform.  The most oft-cited victim of Microsoft's muscling was the company's one-time rival, Netscape Communications Corp., a company that was acquired by AOL Inc.before its browser product faded largely into obscurity beneath the shadow of Microsoft's competing Explorer browser.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Justice Department repeatedly took credit for what it saw as the far-ranging effects of the ruling.

"Nearly every desktop middleware market, from web browsers to media players to instant messaging software, is more competitive today than it was when the final judgment was entered," the statement said. "In addition, the final judgment helped create competitive conditions that enabled new kinds of products, such as cloud computing services and mobile devices, to develop as potential platform threats to the Windows desktop operating system."

In a three-year court battle that began in 1998, the Justice Department and then-Atty. Gen. Janet Reno accused Microsoft of "a broad pattern of anti-competitive conduct designed to eliminate competition, to maintain and strengthen Microsoft's core monopoly over PC operating systems."

Read The Times' May 19, 1998, account of the case's beginnings.

Since then, Microsoft has tried to diversify its business, including many attempts to develop Internet, gaming and mobile products.  Not all of those have been successful.  On Tuesday, the company bought Internet phone service Skype for $8.5 billion in a bid to add more digital communications features to its array of products.

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-- David Sarno

Photo: Microsoft's co-founder and former chief executive, Bill Gates, in 1998, a few weeks after the U.S. filed a major antitrust lawsuit against his company. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

 
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