THE 18 State Attorneys-General in the Landmark Microsoft Anti-Trust Action Will Today Come under Increasing Political Pressure to Back the Settlement Negotiated with the Justice Department, despite Bitter Criticism from the Software Industry and the Threat of More Legal Action by the European Commission

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THE 18 state attorneys-general in the landmark Microsoft anti-trust action will today come under increasing political pressure to back the settlement negotiated with the justice department, despite bitter criticism from the software industry and the threat of more legal action by the European Commission.

Critics have denounced the deal as "rewarding" Microsoft's monopolistic practices and accuse the company of using its political influence with the Republican party to expedite an end to the three-year old case started by the Clinton administration.

Arch-rival Sun Microsystems has also warned that it might sue Microsoft in a new anti-trust action because the proposed agreement with the federal government would not protect competitors.

Microsoft also faces action from Europe's powerful Competition Commissioner, Mario Monti, over allegations that it has used its desktop dominance to steamroller European rivals.

Yet legal experts claim the attorneys-general will find it difficult to maintain a united front against the federal government and will be pressuring states uncomfortable with the agreement, such as California and New York, to fall into line.

The weakening US economy and rising unemployment have also reduced the appetite of some states to continue this battle with the company.

Alternatively, the states, which have until 9am on Tuesday to reach an agreement, could attempt to persuade the court to reject the agreement during mandatory review proceedings or try to pursue tougher penalties in court.

If they go along with the agreement, the court will set in motion a three-month process including public comment, before final approval.

One of the company's fiercest courtroom critics, Richard Blumenthal, attorney-general of Connecticut, said that teams of lawyers were spending the weekend analysing the proposed deal "word by word, line by line".

Blumenthal struck a conciliatory tone by stating that the prosecutors had already made significant gains.

"Describing the agreement as too tough or too lenient is doing it an injustice because those terms are too simplistic," he said. "By Tuesday we need to balance the benefits to the public that can be achieved now as against the risk and costs of pursuing litigation."

Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman, claimed the agreement was tough but fair.

"We will focus more on how our actions affect other companies. Along with this settlement comes new responsibility," he said.

Gates's critics attacked the decision, warning of huge losses for consumers and no sanctions against Microsoft for future breaches. …