USA Today reported on Thursday that the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) is pursuing a larger antitrust case against Microsoft Corporation that will prevent the software giant from shipping Windows 98. At issue is the tight integration of Internet Explorer into Windows 98; sources say the DOJ has enough evidence to bring a court case against Microsoft. Although Assistant Attorney General Joe Klein would not comment on the plan, he did specifically mention Windows 98.

"We have an ongoing investigation which included Windows 98," he said.

If so, the DOJ is going to have to move quickly. According to reports, Microsoft will probably release Windows 98 to manufacturing sometime in the next 30 days.

While ending the bundling of Windows 95 and Internet Explorer didn't really hurt Microsoft, Windows 98--and the upcoming Windows NT 5.0--is designed so that the browser is essentially part of the operating system, making its removal more tricky. Perhaps more importantly, this would put a serious chink in Microsoft's plans for the future, since more and more of their products require Internet Explorer to be installed before they will work.

Regardless of the opinions cycling around this case, a decision would need to determine whether Microsoft is integrating the browser to help customers and improve the ease of use of the operating system, or if it is doing so to stifle competition and harm its competitors.

I would like to qualify this story a bit, by the way: I realize that USA Today isn't necessarily the end-all of computer industry news and, frankly, this is a newspaper that describes Windows NT as "a popular operating system for large users of computers." Still, with the quote from Klein, it seems certain that the DOJ is at least looking at Windows 98; whether something comes of it remains to be seen