The European Commissioner for competition issues, Mario Monti, said yesterday that a hearing in its first antitrust case against Microsoft is still some months away.

Monti revealed little else about the case during a brief meeting with journalists. He did not disclose much information regarding the second European Commission investigation into the software maker.

"It would not be appropriate for me to comment publicly on any possible additional steps," he said.

Case study The first case was sparked by a 1998 complaint from Sun Microsystems, alleging that Microsoft was using its Windows operating system (OS) to muscle rivals out of the market for server software. Early last year, the Commission launched a separate investigation on its own initiative, to see if Microsoft was doing the same thing with the latest version of its OS software, Windows 2000.

In the middle of last year, the Commission opened legal proceedings against Microsoft in the first case. It's expected to take a similar step in the second case in the coming months.

A source close to the Commission expects the two cases to be merged. "They are more or less identical in substance," the source said of the investigations. Lawyers following the Commission's competition department activities think plans for a merger of the antitrust cases are under way.