Next, the appeals. "This was the most favorable court the government's going to see in this case," says TIME legal correspondent Adam Cohen. "Both the appeals court and the Supreme Court are going to be more sympathetic to Microsoft, and they're going to look at the idea of a breakup as very radical and very extreme." And Jackson, may have already lobbed a fat pitch in his decision to give Microsoft only four months to design a breakup plan. "Microsoft will likely take that point straight to appeals, and there's a good chance they'd win," says TIME Silicon Valley correspondent Chris Taylor. "That could set the tone for the rest of this."
So settle in for a long wait, and watch the real punishment continue: the drib-and-drab sapping of a company that's been sweating buckets for two years under the hot lights of both Washington and Wall Street, and which now has to gear up for years more of the same. "Just because things are going to get harder for the government doesn't mean they get any easier for Microsoft," says Cohen. "This process itself is inflicting significant damage." Bill Gates was the prime beneficiary of the legal paralysis that hobbled IBM in the '80s he knows all too well that in the tech business, winning or losing the case is almost beside the point. Microsoft may yet dodge the hatchet, eventually, but its days of wielding the sharpest claws in the tech jungle are gone, never to return.