Judge Gives Microsoft a Break

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Talk about saving the best for last. In 1998's final session of the Microsoft trial , Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson conceded what Microsoft has been saying for weeks: That the merger of AOL and Netscape could represent "a very significant change of the playing field" which "could very well have an immediate effect on the market." Jackson agreed to let Microsoft review the documents submitted by the merging companies to the Justice Department for approval, and also said he might allow Microsoft to request additional documents from AOL and Netscape to assist in its defense. "It is a major victory for Microsoft," says TIME technology writer Chris Taylor. "But nothing has changed in the central tenet of the government's case, which is that Microsoft illegally used its operating system to leverage itself into other software markets."

Ever since the AOL-Netscape merger was announced last month, Microsoft has claimed that it would radically alter the balance of the browser wars because Netscape would suddenly have preferential access to AOL's immense subscriber base. But Justice prosecutor David Boies has countered that the merger was a last resort for Netscape -- a direct consequence of the beating it took because of Microsoft's underhanded grab for market share. And regardless of the new world order, the image of one of the world's most brilliant businessmen pretending not to understand the simplest questions about his own company will be hard to dispel. A new playing field doesn't mean you didn't cheat on the old one.