A European Union judge told a closed meeting last Thursday he planned to rule within a month whether to freeze curbs imposed by the EU's executive on Microsoft, lawyers present said.
EU Court of First Instance President Bo Vesterdorf called the meeting to consider how to handle the withdrawal of two major opponents of Microsoft from the antitrust case--and all sides agreed the drop-outs' submissions to the court should stand.
"We are pleased everybody seems to agree that what's been said cannot be unsaid," Commission lawyer Richard Wainright told reporters.
Vesterdorf said his decision would probably appear on 18 or 20 December, Wainright added. "We have the impression that the order's already been done in French and it has to be translated into English," he said.
Lawyers for Microsoft and third parties also said Vesterdorf had said the decision would come before Christmas.
Vesterdorf is weighing whether to suspend sanctions imposed by the European Commission until Microsoft's main appeal against sanctions levied this March is decided years from now.
The sanctions order Microsoft to provide a version of its ubiquitous Windows operating system without its Media Player multimedia software, and to share data on protocols--software rules of the road--with makers of work group servers.
Novell and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) have since left the lawsuit after Microsoft agreed to pay them substantial sums in settlements.
"All the parties in the meeting agreed, as Microsoft has always maintained, that CCIA and Novell's past testimony should remain on the record," Microsoft spokesman Tom Brookes said.
"We look forward to the judge's interim decision and more importantly moving on with the broader appeal of the Commission's case."
Vesterdorf, who held open hearings on 30 September and 1 October, will decide what sanctions if any should be suspended, but his decision will be separate from the main case.
Ultimately, Microsoft's appeal of the Commission decision will be heard by a three- or five-judge panel of the Court of First Instance, which will not include Vesterdorf.
The European Commission found in March that Microsoft violated EU antitrust laws. It imposed sanctions and a record €497 million (US$660 million) fine on Microsoft.
Microsoft argued the curbs would cause it irreparable harm, while the Commission said they would be rendered meaningless if delayed, because the market would have moved on.
The Commission ordered the company to offer a version of its Windows without Windows Media Player, which plays music and videos over the Internet, so computer makers could sell Windows systems equipped with rival media players.
It ruled that Microsoft bundled its player to damage such rivals as RealNetworks' RealPlayer.
Microsoft was also ordered to give makers of work-group servers information they needed on protocols so they can make systems compatible with those running on Microsoft software.