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Justice Dept. Reportedly to Study Complaints Against Microsoft

THE WASHINGTON POST

The Justice Department has decided to review complaints of anti-competitive practices by Microsoft Corp., the nation’s biggest manufacturer and marketer of computer software and operating systems, government sources said Friday.

As a result of the review, the department’s Antitrust Division could move to take over the case from the Federal Trade Commission and file antitrust charges against Microsoft. Or the division could decide not to pursue it.

Department sources confirmed Friday that the FTC, which has been investigating the case since 1991, turned over its records on Microsoft Thursday in response to an Antitrust Division request.

The decision by the department’s antitrust lawyers to review the case is a setback for Microsoft, which has survived efforts by rivals to persuade the FTC to take action against the company.

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The decision also could transfer a politically sensitive issue into the hands of the Clinton Administration. An antitrust case against Microsoft could be seen as weakening one of the country’s strong global competitors.

The FTC has deadlocked twice this year on whether to proceed against the software firm. One of the five commissioners, Roscoe Starek, recused himself from the case, resulting in 2 to 2 votes that prevented the FTC from acting.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and officials of several of his competitors made their cases in meetings with commission members before the last vote July 21. The FTC, following its policy, never officially confirmed that it was investigating Microsoft, but Microsoft itself acknowledged it.

Microsoft officials declined to comment on the Justice Department’s intervention, saying they had not received official notification of it.

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But its rivals, which contend that Microsoft engages in such unfair practices as making its products incompatible with competing software, said the department should step into the case.

“The Justice Department’s review of this case is appropriate,” said Ray Noorda, chairman and chief executive officer of Novell Inc., Microsoft’s chief rival. “Microsoft’s dominance (of software) has taken full advantage of the (personal computer) market.”


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