updated 6/27/2004 3:26:20 PM ET 2004-06-27T19:26:20

The European Union on Sunday temporarily lifted its order to Microsoft Corp. to change the way it sells software in Europe until the EU high court has heard the company's request for a final appeal of the landmark antitrust decision,

EU spokeswoman Amelia Torres said "based on previous cases" she expected a court ruling in two months on Microsoft's request to stop the landmark antitrust decision from taking effect while its appeal is being considered.

Microsoft asked the EU high court for such a ruling last Friday. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

On March 24, the European Union declared Microsoft guilty in March of abusing its "near monopoly" with Windows software. It levied a record fine of $613 million and demanded changes in how the company operates in Europe so as to improve competition globally.

Microsoft was given 90 days _ a deadline that ends Monday _ to make Windows software available to European PC makers without its digital media player, and 120 days to issue "complete and accurate" information to rivals in the server market so their products can become fully "interoperable" with desktop computers running Windows.

EU antitrust chief Mario Monti signaled he was not backing down.

"The Commission believes that the remedies are reasonable, balanced and necessary to restore competition in the marketplace and that there is a strong public interest in favor of implementing them without waiting for the judgment on the substance of the case," the EU head office said in a statement.

It said it agreed to a temporary lifting of the order only "in the interest of a proper administration of justice."

On June 7, Microsoft filed a 100-page appeal asking the EU high court to annul the EU's antitrust decision and its penalties.

That move in itself does not stop the order, so Microsoft filed a petition last Friday with the EU high court seeking "interim" relief from the antitrust decision.

It wants no penalties imposed while it pursues a final appeal of the ruling. To get its way, it must convince the EU high court it will suffer "irreparable harm" if the measures are implemented now, even if they are reversed later on a final appeal that may take five years or more.

Microsoft said pushing through the antitrust order will hurt software development companies across the board as well as web site developers "who have built products for the Windows platform."

It said that last Friday it requested "that the court suspend the remedies set out in the (March 24 antitrust finding) pending the court's decision on the merits of Microsoft's appeal."

The EU's case against Microsoft turns on the practice by the Redmond, Washington-based company to lock new features into its Windows software to help sell upgrades. The U.S. software giant says such "bundling" benefits consumers, but rivals call it unfair competition since Windows runs 90 percent of personal computers worldwide.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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