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"The legal process can be hard on anyone that goes through it, and the last four years have been challenging for all of us here at Microsoft, and for me personally," said Gates. "But despite the many twists and turns in the case, I’ve always had faith in our company and our employees and in the magic of the software we’re creating."

One of those magical pieces of software is the Windows XP operating system and Internet Explorer 6, which are due in the stores by October. Beta versions of it are already available, however, and antitrust watchdogs are already crying foul over a controversial feature within XP and IE6 called "Smart Tags."

Smart Tags can turn any word on a Web page into a link to a related page. For the word "travel," for example, XP and IE6 can create a link to a travel agency.

It’s thought that Microsoft can use Smart Tags to create links back to their own sites and services in the Microsoft Network. If you click on the name of a company, you could find yourself at that company’s page at MSN MoneyCentral. If you click on the word "vacation" you could find yourself at MSN’s Expedia online travel site.

More amazing than the potential for Smart Tags to channel business to Microsoft sites is the fact that this software application was being developed while the antitrust suit and appeal were still ongoing. Microsoft recently agreed to remove Smart Tags from the official release of XP and IE6 but the damage may already have been done – it makes Microsoft seem almost, well, arrogant.

Not to say that Microsoft is somehow evil, or to imply that Bill Gates is some kind of renegade, or to claim that I didn’t use the version of Internet Explorer that came bundled with my Windows 98. Business is business, and this particular business is cutthroat.

I generally have more confidence with Microsoft software than any other brand, probably because I’m confident that Microsoft is still going to be here in three years. With everything going obsolete so quickly, this is comforting. When their software has a glitch or becomes outdated, they develop a patch. And because almost half the computers in the world run on Windows, there is no shortage of software to choose from.

However, it might be a good idea for Microsoft to pledge to share code with their competitors in the future, and to voluntarily stop bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. If they admit that their business practices might have been slightly skewed in the favour of creating a monopoly, public opinion and the court’s decision will likely show leniency. If they continue to assert that they’ve done nothing wrong, then let the cards fall where they may.

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