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Friday, January 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

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Microsoft will change music link that forces its browser on users

By James Rowley
Bloomberg News

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WASHINGTON — Microsoft agreed to a government demand that it eliminate a feature of its Windows XP operating system that overrides competitors' Web browsers, the Justice Department said.

Microsoft will change the "Shop for Music Online" function of its operating system so that competitors' browsers won't be overridden by Microsoft's Internet Explorer, the Justice Department said in Washington. The Windows operating system runs about 95 percent of the world's personal computers.

The department said the music link's automatic use of Internet Explorer violated a settlement the government negotiated with the company in 2001 after a U.S. appeals court in Washington held that Microsoft illegally protected its Windows monopoly. The settlement requires the company to give computer users freedom to promote rival Web browsers.

"Without necessarily agreeing with the department's position, Microsoft has agreed to remove the override of the user's default browser" by February or March, the Justice Department said.

The music-online feature invoked Internet Explorer even if consumers had chosen such browsers as Opera or Mozilla or Time Warner's Netscape Navigator, the Justice Department said.

"While we differed in our interpretation of the consent decree," Microsoft is "pleased these changes address the government concerns regarding the feature," company spokeswoman Stacy Drake said.

Microsoft had argued that Internet Explorer was necessary to give computer users the "full functionality" of the music link. Consumers using a rival browser will be able to take full advantage of the feature because the updated version of "Shop for Music Online" won't rely on software that is unique to Internet Explorer, Drake said.

Microsoft, meanwhile, scored a legal victory over competitors such as Sun Microsystems and that are seeking monetary damages in civil suits filed in the wake of the government's antitrust case. A U.S. appeals court in Richmond narrowed the scope of indisputable evidence that lawyers for competitors and consumer class-action plaintiffs may submit in the civil cases against Microsoft.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may make it harder for Sun, Burst and others to seek monetary damages from Microsoft.

The panel overturned a ruling by a federal judge in Baltimore that the plaintiffs could submit 350 factual findings made in 1999 by the trial judge in the government's case as indisputable evidence in the civil suits.

It directed U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz to deem indisputable evidence only those findings that were "critical and essential" to the Washington appeals court's 2001 ruling that upheld government claims that Microsoft broke antitrust laws. Under the ruling, Microsoft would be free to contest any of the other findings not deemed necessary to support the 2001 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who approved Microsoft's antitrust settlement with the government, will hold a hearing Jan. 23 to review the company's progress in complying with the consent decree.


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