updated 4/5/2004 3:09:55 PM ET 2004-04-05T19:09:55

Last week's stunning $1.6 billion settlement with Sun Microsystems Inc. is unlikely to impact the antitrust actions against Microsoft Corp. in Europe, officials and legal experts said Monday.

The European Commission said it stood behind its recent ruling against Microsoft, which was initially trigged by a complaint from Sun in 1998. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

"It does not call into question the decision of the 24th of March, if only because the Commission decision is not limited to the interests of any one company in any one area," said EU spokeswoman Amelia Torres. "It is broader than the interests of one company. We took the decision because we thought it was in the interest of European consumers."

Torres refused to say whether Sun had been in contact with EU regulators over the deal or whether it has retracted support for a similar, pending probe into Windows XP, the most recent version of Microsoft's ubiquitous operating system.

In a news release Friday, Sun said it was "satisfied" the agreement with Microsoft also would "satisfy the objectives it was pursuing in the EU actions pending against Microsoft."

Ed Black, president of an anti-Microsoft group _ including Sun _ that brought the XP complaint, said Sun's settlement would have no impact.

"That case was developed with involvement and support of very wide range of companies through many sectors of industry," said Black, who heads the Washington-based Computer and Communications Industry Association.

"The settlement does not appear to reflect any fundamental change in Microsoft's business strategy at all," he added. "They just made Sun into more of a cooperator than a competitor."

He said Sun is not withdrawing from his organization.

Although legal experts who have followed the EU case agreed the overall impact of the Sun settlement probably would be minimal, Stephen Kinsella, an international business expert with the Herbert Smith law firm in Brussels, said it could affect Microsoft's promised appeal.

"The fact that Microsoft is willing to settle after the decision _ doesn't that tend to prove that the decision was necessary?" Kinsella said. "The Commission probably has every justification for feeling justified."

But he added that Microsoft could also use the settlement to argue to the court that it was working in a positive way to solve the problems.

EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monti fined Microsoft 497.2 million euros ($611 million) two weeks ago for abusively wielding its Windows software monopoly, after a five-year investigation. Monti also ordered Microsoft to produce a version of Windows without Microsoft's own digital media player already included.

Lee Patch, Sun's vice president of legal affairs, said Monday that his company's settlement was "wholly consistent" with the view of European regulators.

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