A group of Microsoft competitors is urging a federal judge in Baltimore to reject Microsoft's proposed settlement of most of its private class-action lawsuits that were launched because of the company's guilty antitrust verdict. Microsoft announced late last week that it had reached a tentative agreement valued at more than $1 billion in which the company will supply the nation's 14,000 poorest schools with Microsoft software, support, and PCs. But competitors say that the agreement is a sweetheart deal for Microsoft because instead of punishing the company, the agreement lets Microsoft extend its domination into schools.

"This \[settlement would\] do nothing to deter future anticompetitive conduct by Microsoft and would inflict great harm upon the technology markets affected by such conduct," wrote Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, an anti-Microsoft trade organization, in a letter to US District Court Judge J. Frederick Motz.

The controversial settlement will head back to court today when Motz holds a hearing to help him decide whether to OK the deal. Microsoft supporters say the settlement is fair because a private educational foundation that will oversee the technology grant could conceivably supply some schools with Apple hardware and software, which competes with Microsoft's products.