Microsoft lawyers are preparing a response to the government's broad "remedy" proposed to US district judge Thomas Penfield Jackson.

The response is expected to delay the trial beyond the scheduled May 24 courtroom hearing.

Two hours after the US government asked Jackson to split Microsoft into two companies - one for Windows operating systems, subject to conduct restrictions, and one for Microsoft's Office software suite and other applications - Microsoft’s general counsel William Neukom vowed to push for "a significant expansion of the remedy process".

Microsoft is still scheduled to file its response to the government on May 10. That filing, whether it arrives as scheduled or not, will have three parts: Microsoft's direct rebuttal of the government's proposal, the company's own remedy proposal and an outline of how Microsoft wants Jackson to structure the rest of the case.

"Even the government will have to agree that an American firm deserves more than 12 days to respond to a government proposal to tear apart a $400 billion company," Neukom told reporters and analysts.

Public opinion In another move, Microsoft has stepped up its public relations drive, with a series of TV advertisements featuring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Last month company chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates was featured in similar ads. Microsoft has also begun a national newspaper advertising campaign targeted at its "customers, partners and shareholders".

Microsoft is expected to refute the US government's proposal to Jackson by telling the judge that a company break-up is an unnecessarily harsh remedy. The company claims the solution is unrelated to the conduct cited in the trial, and invites the heavy hand of government regulation into the software industry.

The company's lawyers are expected to ask Jackson for broad latitude to subpoena documents used in the government's internal remedy deliberations and to depose and cross-examine government experts and consultants, perhaps in open court.

Keeping quiet Microsoft has so far given little public indication of how it will structure its counter-remedy proposal to Jackson. According to a source familiar with the company's strategy, its probable that Microsoft will go no further than to propose milder "conduct remedies". These could include a stipulation that the company ship versions of its Windows operating system without first welding on its Internet Explorer Web browser.

Jackson is expected to leave the May 24 hearing on the schedule, but because he'll still be trying to balance the competing proposals now coming in, the hearing might consist of little more than oral arguments from both sides. While it's up to Jackson to decide how fast to move, the government's bold opening gambit may force the judge to grant Microsoft at least some additional time - and legal tools - to defend against a break-up. This will mean public depositions and courtroom hearings that will push the case into its third summer.