Microsoft's 'Armageddon'

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WASHINGTON: So Microsoft got a stay of execution Friday, but little else in its ongoing legal battle with the Justice Department is looking up. While Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson delayed contempt hearings until January 13, he also pointed out that it took him ninety seconds to disentangle Windows 95 and Internet Explorer 4 — something all the brains in Redmond claim they can't do. "We simply can't slice and dice (Windows) with a legal meat cleaver," retorted MS attorney Brad Smith.

Regardless of where the case goes from here, it isn’t going to be settled out of court. The extent of the DOJ's anti-Microsoft venom became clear Friday, when a Washington Post exclusive revealed they're hiring one of the country’s top trial lawyers — David Boies, of blue-chip New York law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore.

Why is that so unusual? Bear in mind the DOJ is already bursting at the seams with antitrust lawyers — there are 340 of the creatures currently going hell for leather on the Microsoft case. Hiring Boies raises the stakes immensely, by making it very hard for Reno’s men to back down. As former assistant attorney general Charles A. James told the Post, “this is Armageddon” for Microsoft. “Boies is as good a trial lawyer as exists in the United States,” he added.

And luckily for the taxpayer, Boies is so keen to take the case, he’s doing it semi-pro-bono — that is, taking a 50 percent cut in his usual $550-an-hour-rate. He’s got a fair bit of antitrust experience, but usually on the other side — ironically, he was a part-timer in the team that represented IBM during 12 years of government harassment — and got Big Blue off scot-free. Bill Gates must be kicking himself that he didn’t get to Boies first.