A Hard Line Judge For Microsoft?

Federal Judge Stanley Sporkin has managed to unnerve both Microsoft and a host of U.S. government officials. At a lively court hearing on Jan. 20, the Washington jurist made it clear he would not automatically sign off on the two parties' proposed antitrust settlement of last July without probing the accord. "I don't want to be made a fool," he said.

The former Securities & Exchange Commission enforcement director didn't let either top Justice Dept. trustbuster Anne Bingaman or Microsoft's lawyers off the hook. While he's no cybernaut--he learned to use his PC just three years ago to play computer chess--he questioned why certain alleged Microsoft practices weren't covered by the government's case. The consent decree, he said, "doesn't go far enough."

Bingaman defended her right as prosecutor to decide which charges to bring. "You can't force me to file a case," she said, pounding the table. Want to bet? The feds and Microsoft now await a ruling that could either end the case or lead to more legal battles.