The federal judge overseeing Microsoft's antitrust-related class action lawsuits has reviewed the company's controversial proposed settlement and come away unimpressed. Citing the "serious issues" he has with the settlement, which would supply the nation's poorest schools with computers and software supposedly worth $1 billion, Judge J. Frederick Motz has told the company and plaintiff's lawyers to meet with a mediator to hammer out more acceptable terms. The meeting will take place next Tuesday.

Motz has said that he would rule on the settlement by the end of the year, but after a contentious hearing earlier this week, when Microsoft opponents such as Apple Computer attempted to derail the lopsided deal, the judge said he was unsure how to rule in the case. "Nobody knows what I'm going to do, including me," he said during a second protracted hearing Tuesday. "Serious issues have been raised on both sides."

Opponents of the settlement also include some of the plaintiffs, especially those from California, and various Microsoft competitors, who charge that the settlement provides Microsoft with a more dominant position in the crucial education market while not actually costing them much money. Microsoft attempted to subtly change the deal last week in order to appease its detractors, and the company noted that the National Education Association and the United Negro College Fund both back the deal.