While the Department of Justice (DoJ) reportedly puts the final pieces together for what could be a broader anti-trust suit against Microsoft, sources close to both parties late last week were holding out hope for an out-of-court settlement.
A draft copy of a new, potential DoJ anti-trust lawsuit - much more sweeping in scope than the current case - was leaked recently to several US national news organisations. This action could indicate the government is applying pressure on Microsoft to settle, and thereby avoid what figures to be an ugly, protracted legal battle.
One source close to the case said a range of different options for resolution of the matter are being weighed, including requiring Microsoft to bundle Netscape's Navigator browser with every copy of Windows 98, or offer an Internet Explorer-free version of the OS.
Despite the prospect of a broader lawsuit - or because of the threat - Microsoft is pressing ahead to deliver Windows 98 on time. Microsoft recently sent out Release Candidate 4, labelled Build 1900.6. The disk is described as a "Special Test Edition . . . that is for compatibility testing only", indicating to some that this version represents the feature-complete version of the controversial OS that has become a political flash-point. Microsoft officials said one more release candidate might be sent as of last week, when the company hoped to ship Windows 98 to manufacturing and to PC makers.
The disk also carries an expiration date of April 1, 2001, which to some is not only further indication that the beta is the final code but when Microsoft will discontinue the products of its Windows 9x series and make available operating systems based on Windows NT code.
"This is interesting because it tells you two things. One, it gives you a target for when you have to upgrade and two, it gives Microsoft a hard date of when they are going to have to supply you with an upgrade," said one Windows 98 beta tester.
Officials at Microsoft and the DoJ had no comment.