A US Federal judge today set September 8 as the date Microsoft and government prosecutors will face off in a federal court, and ordered state and federal officials to consolidate their antitrust cases into one.
The ruling by US District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson apparently removes the final barrier for Microsoft's scheduled June 25 launch date of Windows 98. Prosecutors have sought injunctions to force Microsoft to ship versions of the operating system that did not integrate the Internet Explorer browser.
Meanwhile, OEMs will have PCs with Windows 98 ready to ship on June 15, said a company representative, who added it was unclear whether consumers will be able to get those systems before the launch 10 days later. Upgrades and shrink-wrapped versions of the OS will not be available until June 25, the representative said.
The September 8 date - which will kick off what most observers expect to be a year-long court battle - was a compromise.
Microsoft has sought a delay of seven months, and the 20 State attorneys general and the District of Columbia have sought a June 18 court date, Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said.
"The Judge rejected a motion by the Federal Government and the States that called for a rush to judgment on these issues by June 18, before Microsoft could assemble its case," said William Neukom, Microsoft's chief attorney, in a statement on Friday. "We will use the time the court has provided to marshal all the facts and legal arguments, and we will present a very powerful case in September."
The Justice Department and state officials filed a wide array of antitrust charges against Microsoft on Monday, accusing the software giant of using its Windows dominance to monopolise the Internet browser and other markets.
The state lawsuits also accuse Microsoft of anti-competitive practices with regard to its productivity applications, particularly Office.
Last December, Jackson issued a preliminary injunction requiring Microsoft to offer OEMs a version of Windows 95 that does not include Explorer. Last week, an appeals court ruled that injunction did not apply to Windows 98.