Master Blaster

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WASHINGTON: The Empire strikes back. Microsoft scored a major triumph Monday night when a federal appeals court temporarily halted the work of Lawrence Lessig, the court-appointed "special master" who, the Redmond firm claimed, had compared Microsoft to the devil. Lessig, a Harvard law professor, had been asked by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson to review "complex issues of cybertechnology and contract interpretation." Microsoft complained this was tantamount to trial by an individual, not a court. Swiftly and surprisingly, the appeals court agreed.

The taste of victory was tempered by the emergence of new opponents. Eleven state attorneys general opened fire in their own antitrust suits Monday, with a whole host of subpoenas requesting details of Microsoft's murky Windows-Internet Explorer connection. Rallying the troops for retaliation, Bill Gates wrapped himself in the flag: "A vital principle is at stake," he wrote in a 2,000-word letter to 25,700 employees. "Whether Microsoft and thousands of other American software companies will continue to be free to create software that benefits consumers." And with that, they marched out to meet the enemy.