ABoth sides claim victory, but Microsoft Corp., which once faced the prospect of a breakup, emerged relatively unscathed. For the Justice Department and nine states that settled with Microsoft in 2001, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's approval of the substance of the settlement was welcome after years of legal wrangling.
But the decision was a setback for the District and the nine states that had sought to have that agreement overturned. Experts said yesterday's decisions are unlikely to force Microsoft to make any further major changes in its business practices.
Will this decision make a difference when I buy a new computer?
Microsoft can no longer reward computer makers for refusing to install alternative software on new personal computers, the judge said. The states had charged that Microsoft strong-armed manufacturers into dropping competing software applications, such as Netscape's Internet browser, by punishing them with more expensive Windows licenses.
Computer manufacturers such as Dell and Gateway now have more freedom to decide what software will be pre-installed on new machines. Their decisions will depend on what customers want, so new computer buyers should experience a greater range of options when choosing word processors, spreadsheet software, Internet browsers and media players.
Will Microsoft be required to "un-bundle," or sell separately, the Windows operating system and Windows programs such as Internet Explorer?
No, Microsoft is not required to sell its operating system as an individual product. It is still allowed to include, for example, its Internet Explorer Web browser or its audio and video player Windows Media Player with the basic operating system at no additional cost, if it chooses. Critics say this will make it much harder for companies offering alternative browsers or media players, such as Netscape and RealNetworks, to compete with Microsoft.
Does this mean I can decide to remove certain Microsoft features or applications, such as Internet Explorer, from my computer?
No, users and computer makers will have the ability to hide more graphical elements or shortcuts to Microsoft features but not to actually disable or remove them. That is a more radical remedy that several states pushed for but the court rejected. Microsoft has already made available an upgrade to the newest version of its Windows operating system, Windows XP, that allows users to conceal its icons or make them more discreet.
If I use a non-Windows operating system, such as Linux, will I now be able to purchase Microsoft programs that can run on my system?
No, the judge's decision does not require Microsoft to license its programs, such as the popular Office suite, to software developers who could make versions of them available to users of competing operating systems.
Now that Microsoft is required to release more technical data about its Windows system, will I be able to choose from more software applications for my personal computer?
Probably. Since competing software developers will now have greater access to certain technical data, they should be able to write improved, more compatible applications for Windows systems.
Will consumers receive any compensation for Microsoft's monopolistic practices? Will Microsoft's prices fall as a result of the settlement?
No, customers will not receive any monetary benefits under the decision. There is no reason to believe prices of Microsoft products will fall in the short term as a result of the settlement, according to Laura DiDio, an analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston.
If I want to read the decision, where can I find it?
The court's rulings are posted online at http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/microsoft-2001.html.
Does this mean the Microsoft court saga is over?
No, another round of appeals is possible, and they could stretch the case out for several more years. Microsoft is also embroiled in several private lawsuits brought by competitors, such as AOL Time Warner, which now owns Netscape, and Sun Microsystems, which developed the Java operating system. European Union regulators have issued preliminary findings suggesting that Microsoft illegally restricted competition in the market for servers -- computers that connect networks of computers -- and digital media players.
In addition, Microsoft faces more than 100 class-action suits alleging that its monopoly meant customers overpaid for Windows. In January, a U.S. district judge in Baltimore rejected Microsoft's attempt to settle the suits by donating computing equipment and money to struggling public schools.