Nine of the 18 states involved in the Microsoft antitrust case have rejected the settlement agreed by Microsoft and the Department of Justice. Nine more have consented to the agreement.

Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal, whose state is continuing litigation, called the Justice Department settlement "very good progress", but said it wasn't strong enough to prevent a "recurrence of violations" of law". "The settlement reached today reflects a triumph of hope over history," said Blumenthal, warning "that history is due cause for caution".

This means Microsoft will have to continue its court battle against the dissenting states in a series of hearings beginning in March. Once those are concluded Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly will have to impose a remedy against Microsoft, which still stands guilty of violating US antitrust law by illegally maintaining its monopoly.

The nine states that settled are Ohio, North Carolina, New York, Michigan, Kentucky, Illinois, Maryland, Louisiana and Wisconsin. The nine states that will continue litigation are Iowa, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Florida, Kansas, Utah, Minnesota and West Virginia.

Positive step Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, said in a statement that the decision by nine states to settle "is a very significant positive step toward resolving these issues once and for all".

He added: "While this decree will place significant restrictions on our business, we believe this is a fair and reasonable settlement that will be good for consumers, good for the high-tech industry and good for the economy."

Kollar-Kotelly will now take the case into what legal experts see as unchartered territory. The judge will conduct two separate proceedings. Under a federal law called the Tunney Act, the judge must accept public comments about the proposed settlement and then decide, before making it official, whether the settlement is in the public interest. That comment period will begin once the proposed settlement is published in the Federal Register, which isn't expected until the end of the month. Comments will be accepted for 60 days. The Justice Department and other parties to the settlement will then have 30 days to respond.

Tunney vision While the Tunney Act proceeding is under way, the judge will move the case along its litigation path with state officials, leading up to the remedy hearings. The next big step for the litigating states is to file their proposed remedy by December 7. Microsoft must respond by December 12.

US attorney general John Ashcroft last week said: "The proposed settlement puts in place enforcement measures that will require Microsoft to disclose internal operating system interfaces and protocols. Those disclosures, in turn, will create opportunities for independent software vendors to develop products that will be competitive with Microsoft's products."