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Microsoft Crafts Backup Plan

He said developers of other software products that make use of the media-playing capability of Windows also would be hurt by having less-robust versions of the operating system in the marketplace.

In the United States, attorneys general of several states had sought a similar remedy for Microsoft's antitrust violations, but the proposal was rejected by federal courts.

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Report: Microsoft

Instead, in an agreement with the Justice Department, Microsoft agreed to give consumers and computer makers the ability to mask the presence of various Microsoft applications in Windows.

In the course of that case, a Microsoft executive testified that removing the Windows media player would hamper rival media players from working properly.

RealNetworks executives dispute this, and they have given demonstrations to E.U. regulators showing its player operating normally on a version of Windows with Microsoft's media player removed.

Although this week's hearings are on the largely procedural question of whether the E.U. order can be set aside pending appeals, both sides view the decision as a critical juncture in the case.

Microsoft hopes that winning a postponement might push E.U. regulators back to the negotiating table to try to settle the case. The two sides came close to an agreement before the E.U. antitrust commissioner, Mario Monti, issued his orders, but it fell through at the last minute.

"We have said repeatedly that we are committed to working these issues out in a constructive way," Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel, said in an interview. "We hope the court provides guidance that makes it easier for all parties to sit down and hammer out a solution in an amicable way."

Rivals worry that a postponement will mean years of appeals that will result in Microsoft gaining an insurmountable chokehold on the media-playing and network-server markets.

The hearings that begin Thursday will be before Bo Vesterdorf, presiding judge of the E.U.'s Court of First Instance. The court often hears preliminary matters for the European Court of Justice, which would hear the full appeal of the case.

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