The judge examining whether or not to suspend sanctions in the European Union's antitrust ruling against Microsoft has called a meeting to decide how the case should proceed following the withdrawal of two of its major participants.

Sanctions include a €497.2 million fine, the publication of APIs (application programming interfaces) related to network servers and the unbundling of the media player software from Windows.

Microsoft political power-play

The meeting, called by Judge Bo Vesterdorf of the Court of First Instance (CFI) in Luxembourg, will be held Thursday, said Bruce Lowry, a spokesman with Novell, one of the companies that has withdrawn from the case. "The judge called a meeting and invited all parties to the EU action to attend in order to discuss procedural matters having to do with the withdrawal of the CCIA and Novell," he said.

Novell and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a Washington-based industry organization, had been participating in the European Commission's case against Microsoft, but the two companies settled their antitrust claims in early November. As a result, both have agreed to withdraw from the case, leaving RealNetworks as the last company with a broad complaint in the matter.

Other industry organizations, including the Free Software Foundation, also remain involved in the case.

Thursday's meeting has been called to determine whether testimony from Novell and CCIA should be removed from the case, said a source familiar with the proceedings.

Other people familiar with the case said that the judge wanted to hear from the parties their assessment of the implications of Novell and CCIA withdrawing from the case. However, there was no suggestion that the Commission would drop the case at this stage.

Five year focus

In March, the European Commission concluded a five-year investigation into Microsoft, concluding that the software vendor had abused its dominance in the PC operating system market, giving it an unfair advantage over rivals like RealNeworks and Novell. The Commission imposed the fine and ordered Microsoft to offer a version of Windows that did not include its Windows Media Player software. It also ordered Microsoft to open up parts of its Windows code so that rivals could build competing products.

Microsoft appealed the ruling to the CFI, and Verterdorf is examining whether to suspend some or all of the Commission's remedies or to deny Microsoft's appeal.

Microsoft did not return calls seeking comment on this story.