updated 5/17/2006 1:00:56 PM ET 2006-05-17T17:00:56

A federal judge said Wednesday she will agree to extend by two years the U.S. government’s oversight of some of Microsoft Corp.’s business practices, until at least November 2009.

(MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly also pressed the Justice Department to defend its conclusion that Microsoft did not violate antitrust laws over the design of its upcoming Internet Explorer Web browser software.

Google has said the browser improperly steers people to Microsoft’s search engine instead of Google’s more popular technology, but the Justice Department disclosed in its legal papers last week that it will take no action.

“I couldn’t quite figure out how it got resolved and why it wasn’t a problem,” the judge said. She appeared satisfied after a Justice Department lawyer, Renata Hesse, described how easy it was for consumers and computer makers to direct the browser software to use search technology other than Microsoft’s.

Microsoft had already agreed to the lengthier scrutiny sought by the Justice Department and the attorneys general in 17 states. The company has struggled since 2002 with a key provision in its landmark antitrust settlement requiring it to disclose to its competitors sensitive details about some of its software.

Government lawyers said they were prepared to extend oversight of Microsoft’s business activities through 2012 if they deem it necessary. In court papers, they had described Microsoft’s efforts under parts of the settlement as “disappointing” and “not very encouraging,” but they also said Microsoft’s failures were neither willful nor systematic.

The antitrust settlement required Microsoft to offer its technology to competitors to build products that seamlessly communicate with computers running Windows software. When the settlement was negotiated, the judge and government lawyers described that requirement as among its most significant provisions toward restoring competition in the technology industry.

Kollar-Kotelly expressed concerns that Microsoft will devote sufficient attention to its obligations under the U.S. antitrust settlement even as it faces related pressures from its court fight with the European Commission.

“We started earlier, and I’m not going to be stuck going to 2012 because the European Commission got something faster,” she said. “I want to be sure we have the resources to get this done.”

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