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Microsoft is almost certain to face a flood of consumer lawsuits following a federal judge's ruling that the software giant violated the Sherman Act - the same law used to break up Standard Oil and AT&T. Micro-soft already faces 120 private federal and state lawsuits brought since last November, when the judge, Thomas Penfield Jackson, released findings unfavorable to the company. But after Monday's verdict, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was already fighting back by vowing to appeal the ruling, which could delay its impact for years. Yet, both sides in the case also left the door open for an agreement. If none is reached, Jackson will begin considering penalties ranging from breaking up the company to forcing it to share its software code with competitors.

Microsoft pulled the Nasdaq Composite Index down 349.15 points, or 7.6 percent, on Monday, its worst point drop in history. The plunge continued into Tuesday as the Monitor went to press, with the index losing another 240 points and falling below 4000. But the Dow was posting only relatively small losses yesterday - about 70 points - after a 300.01-point gain Monday.

As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said he would hold hearings on the Microsoft case. He indicated he would explore the verdict's implications for consumers and the economy.

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