A federal judge ordered Microsoft and the US government to participate in intensive negotiations to settle the four-year legal battle and come back to her office by 2 November with an agreement.
If both sides do not have an agreement by 12 October, US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered them to pick a mediator.
The written order also said the judge should be informed every ten days as to how the talks are going.
"In light of the recent tragic events affecting our nation, this court regards the benefit which will be derived from a quick resolution of these cases as increasingly significant," Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
"The court cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of making these efforts to settle the cases and resolve the parties' differences in this time of rapid national change.
"I expect the parties to engage in settlement talks seven days a week and around the clock to try to agree on remedies," the judge said.
If no settlement is reached by the 2 November deadlines, both sides will have to begin meeting a schedule for producing witnesses and conducting discovery. This will culminate in a hearing, beginning 11 March, to decide the company's fate.
Kollar-Kotelly also rejected Microsoft's request to narrow the range of remedies the Justice Department and 18 states may seek to stop the company from illegally protecting its Windows monopoly.
The order comes a week after the two sides offered their proposed schedules in a joint filing that showed how far apart they are.
In response to the judge's ruling, Justice Department antitrust chief Charles James said the government is pleased with the judge's decision to move quickly on this case.
"We hope the talks will be successful. If not, we look forward to proceeding in March."
And Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said: "We've expressed our openness to pursuing the settlement process and remain committed to resolving the remaining issues in this case."
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