Although lawyers for the government and Microsoft Corp. rested their cases yesterday, a final resolution in the antitrust dispute could be as much as three years away.

By Aug. 10, both sides must prepare lengthy legal briefs that summarize the factual points they believe they made in the 76 days of testimony, which began Oct. 19.

After U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has had a chance to review the documents, the two sides will present closing arguments starting on Sept. 21. Several weeks later, Jackson will issue his "proposed findings of fact," in which he will list the facts he believes were proved in court.

The government and Microsoft then will prepare another set of legal briefs that argue how the antitrust laws apply to the facts. Jackson will hear additional courtroom arguments and then will issue a final ruling on his "conclusions of law," perhaps in November.

It's unclear what happens after that. Should Microsoft lose, the judge has indicated that he will hold another set of hearings on "remedies." Those proceedings could involve additional witnesses and last several weeks, with a final decision issued sometime next spring.

But if it loses, Microsoft likely would try to appeal the decision at a remedies hearing. An appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals could take six to 12 months more. A Supreme Court decision could take another six to 12 months.

The process would end sooner if both sides agree to a settlement. No negotiations are scheduled, but sources close to the case expect some informal discussions to begin soon.