Microsoft is beginning to settle antitrust and class-action suits brought by a variety of US States.

The company has agreed to establish a $89 million fund to settle a class-action lawsuit in North Carolina, It has also convinced West Virginia State - one of those that had appealed against last year's ruling in the federal antitrust case against the company - to drop its appeal. Microsoft has also settled a class action lawsuit over unfair competition in a $21 million settlement with that State.

The West Virginia settlement is similar in structure to settlements Microsoft reached in Montana, Florida and California. The fund provides vouchers that can be used to buy computer-related products. Half of the value of any unclaimed vouchers will go to poor North Carolina schools, he said.

Under the settlement, North Carolina consumers who bought Microsoft software either preinstalled on a PC or off-the-shelf between December 9, 1995 and December 31, 2002, will be able to claim a voucher worth $5 or $10 (depending on the product).

Schools The settlement proposal was presented to a judge on Friday. The judge has asked the parties involved some questions, including some specifically related to the money that could go to the schools. Another hearing will be held later this year.

Meanwhile, West Virginia will drop its appeal against last year's ruling in the federal antitrust case against Microsoft, at the same time settling a class action lawsuit over unfair competition.

Microsoft is offering West Virginia consumers $18 million in vouchers for hardware, software or professional development services, to be spent on Microsoft or non-Microsoft products, said Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler. Residents of West Virginia will have four months to make a claim under the settlement, and successful claimants will receive vouchers for either $5 or $10 depending on what they bought, he said. Half of any unclaimed vouchers will be given to West Virginia's most needy public schools, he added.

In addition, the company will give vouchers for hardware, software or services worth a further $1 million to state schools, and vouchers worth $700,000 to the Office of the West Virginia Attorney General to be distributed at his discretion, Microsoft said in the statement. The remaining $1.3 million will be paid to the state, in part to cover the administrative cost of distributing the vouchers. The deal has received the preliminary approval of the court of settlement, Microsoft said.

By dropping its appeal against District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's November ruling in the federal antitrust case, West Virginia leaves Massachusetts as the only state still fighting the ruling. The two states had been holding out for a tougher ruling.