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DOJ antitrust settlement with Microsoft to expire

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WASHINGTON >> The technology industry advances at lightning speed. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the expiration of the Justice Department’s historic antitrust settlement with software giant Microsoft is passing with little fanfare Thursday.

In an age of Apple iPhones, Google Web searches and Facebook friends, Microsoft Corp.’s control over the computer desktop through its Windows operating system might seem like last decade’s monopoly.

But in a statement released Wednesday, the Justice Department said it believes the landmark case that it and 19 state attorneys general brought against Microsoft in 1998 helped open the computer industry to greater competition and innovation across the technology sector. The government credits a settlement reached after years of courtroom battles with creating market conditions that have allowed all sorts of new products and services — from mobile devices to cloud computing — to challenge Microsoft’s powerful Windows computing platform.

At the heart of the Justice Department’s case against Microsoft were charges that the company was using its monopoly control over the Windows operating system to extend its dominance into other markets, including the market for Web browsers. Among other things, the government charged that Microsoft violated antitrust law by requiring computer makers to use its Internet Explorer browser as a condition of licensing Windows, by prohibiting consumers and computer makers from removing the Internet Explorer browser from the Windows operating system and by preventing outside software programs from working with Windows.

The final settlement, which has been in effect since 2002, prohibited the company from engaging in such behavior. This has allowed software products such as Web browsers, media players and instant messaging software to flourish, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

For its part, Microsoft said it is happy to put the case behind it. “Our experience has changed us and shaped how we view our responsibility to the industry,” the company said in a statement.

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