The US. Department of Justice (DOJ) probably will not try to block Microsoft from releasing a version of the Windows 98 operating system bundled with Internet Explorer, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
"Because it's an open matter, I won't have a comment, in order to protect the investigation," a spokesman at the DOJ said in response.
The federal agency's antitrust division is investigating the software maker for alleged anti-competitive business practices. The DOJ filed a lawsuit against Microsoft last year, arguing that the company has violated terms of a 1995 consent decree by forcing PC vendors to accept Windows 95 bundled with the Internet browser software.
As that case works its way through the courts, various industry analysts and observers have wondered what effect it might have on Microsoft's upcoming release of Windows 98, which is expected out in May.
A decision by the DOJ not to impede release of the bundled version of Windows 98 would be significant because it could allow Microsoft to gain more ground in the highly competitive browser market. Top rival Netscape has been losing market share.
Microsoft has agreed to provide an unbundled version of Windows 95 to vendors who request it, but PC makers have testified before a US Senate committee that Microsoft offers "incentives" for them to use the bundled version. PC vendors also have said that consumers want an Internet browser as part of the software package installed on their machines.
The Journal also has reported this week that the scope of the DOJ investigation into Microsoft is expanding. The antitrust division yesterday said that it has hired Jeff Blattner as special counsel for information technology. In that role, he is expected to take the lead in overseeing the Microsoft investigation. Last December, the DOJ hired high-profile antitrust lawyer David Boies as a consultant in the case.
Besides the DOJ investigation, Microsoft is being scrutinised by more than half of the U.S. state attorneys general, the U.S. Senate and the European Commission.