Microsoft is a relentless, predatory monopolist which has stifled competition and development of new technology. That's according to District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, presiding over the Department of Justice's anti-trust lawsuit against the $19.75 billion (£12bn) software giant. Judge Jackson's preliminary 'statement of fact' - delivered after a year of claims, and 77 days spent in court - found that Microsoft repeatedly tried to throttle competitors in the operating system market, in a manner that caused 'immediate and easily discernible harm' to its customers. The decision to bundle the browser Internet Explorer with Windows NT was instrumental in the collapse of Netscape's share of the browser market from 62% to 36%, Jackson found. PC makers have also felt the fell hand of Microsoft, with IBM and Gateway paying more for the use of the operating system than Dell and Hewlett-Packard, which enjoyed more cordial relationships with Microsoft. Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and chief executive, issued a prompt rebuttal of Jackson's findings, describing Microsoft as the 'epitome of the American dream'. Meanwhile, the Microsoft machine sprang into action. 'People are confusing success with monopoly. This is the most competitive market in the world and there are plenty of people looking to take our market share away,' claimed Oliver Roll, director of business marketing for Microsoft UK. 'I have intense sympathy for Microsoft,' said Richard Bloss, a partner in the Psion user group. 'Here is a company practising the American dream and being punished for it.' Customers, at least, seem prepared to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. Keith Myers, IT director of Harry Ramsdens, says Microsoft has made the IT industry a better place, though its sheer size and domination of the browser, desktop and server markets. 'Have people forgotten what it was like with numerous sets of incompatible systems?' he said. 'While a lot of people in the industry don't like Microsoft, most users like their products.' At the University of Glamorgan, a Microsoft beta site, staff are unconcerned by the ruling and the trial in general. 'Nobody gets sacked for buying Microsoft these days,' said Anthony Evans, corporate IS manager. But he added: 'I wouldn't complain if the case led to lower prices'. Evans says Microsoft was correct to reward partners such as Compaq with cheaper deals. 'If I was an exclusive partner, I'd expect preferential rates.' UK users are more concerned by the possible impact from any future ruling. 'We are very concerned at the effect this might have on the level of support that we receive from Microsoft,' said Mark Cartwright, infrastructure manager at utility company Hyder. Giga Information Group analyst Rob Enderle, however, says customers could benefit. 'Original equipment manufacturers now feel free to explore Linux, and we have seen Sun Microsystems' StarOffice competing with Microsoft in the application service provider market,' he said. Though the case now goes to appeal, the initial findings are a blow to Microsoft. And the language of Jackson's report - 'stranglehold', 'damage', 'stifling innovation' - leaves little room for interpretation. Should the Redmond giant lose its appeal, dismantling the company seems an unlikely option. 'A very steep fine will be given. That, combined with continued government oversight and an inability to move without permission, should be sufficient,' said Enderle. Or the Windows operating system could be thrown open to developers, making it easier to develop rival systems. But this could be complicated by the enormous amount of code within the system that is licensed from third-party developers. The only certainty is that there is still a long way to go. The appeals process in the US courts could take a very long time and absorb undue management attention. Even then, Italian authorities are waiting to launch their own investigations into Microsoft's practices, and the whole sorry mess could start again. THE VERDICT: GATES VS JACKSON 'Microsoft has succeeded because we have been guided by the most basic American values: innovation, integrity, serving customers, partnership, quality and giving to the community. We compete vigorously, but fairly.' Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and chief executive. 'Browsing-specific routines have been commingled with operating system routines to a greater degree than is necessary to provide any consumer benefit. Microsoft has unjustifiably jeopardised the stability and security of the operating system.' Thomas Penfield Jackson, US district judge.
Moon's dark side is mountainous, rugged and never visible from the Earth
The groundwater basins in some areas of Tehran have been damaged irreversibly
This is the first time that any spacecraft on Mars has recorded air vibrations on the planet
Arctic sea ice is thickening at a faster rate during winter, thus slowing down long-term decline: NASA
But, the seasonal ice growth could only delay the demise of the Arctic ice cap for a few more decades