updated 1/13/2004 1:43:19 PM ET 2004-01-13T18:43:19

A judge has nixed a Web-based program that aimed to help California consumers file electronically for a piece of a $1.1 billion class-action settlement against Microsoft Corp., saying anyone who wants to make a claim must fill out paperwork.

Lindows.com Inc.'s site, MSfreePC.com, promised to simplify the process and provide instant gratification. Users, after answering a few questions, were given Lindows' Linux operating system or other open-source software instantly rather than having to wait six months for paper claims to be processed.

Microsoft said MSfreePC violated the integrity of the claims process. Lindows countered that Microsoft did not want to simplify the process so that it could collect a bigger portion of any unclaimed money. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

"Microsoft's claim that digital signatures are valid when used to sell their software but not when it costs them money is pure hypocrisy," said Michael Robertson, Lindows' chief executive. "Their true intentions are not to remedy their abusive pricing policies but simply to escape financial redress to Californians."

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Paul Alvarado sided with Microsoft on Dec. 22, saying claims processed through the MSfreePC site were invalid.

"Both Microsoft and the plaintiffs' attorneys worked together for months to develop a claims process that's very straightforward and clear," said Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake. "The only complication was created by Lindows' inappropriate attempt to use the settlement as a marketing tool."

The Microsoft settlement, reached in January 2003, came in response to a 1999 lawsuit on behalf of California consumers and businesses that claimed the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant violated the state's antitrust and unfair competition laws.

Proceeds from the deal were being distributed in the form of vouchers redeemable for computers that run on the operating system of their choice as well as other peripherals or software from any provider.

Anyone who bought certain versions of Microsoft's programs to use in California between 1995 and 2001 is entitled to a voucher.

San Diego-based Lindows said anyone who received software for their claims will be allowed to keep the products. Those consumers also can file the old fashioned way, by submitting a paper form to a claims administrator by March 15.

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